Gov. Scott Walker highlighted a welder during his recent State of the State address.
Yes, Wisconsin needs more skilled labor. Manufacturers have been complaining about a shortage for years.
But the importance of higher education and technology to the future of Wisconsin’s economy deserves more support and attention.
The Republican governor’s plan to cut $300 million from the University of Wisconsin System is troubling. Allowing UW campuses more flexibility from state bureaucracy to save money is fine. But the governor wants the System to absorb what would amount to a 13 percent cut in state funding while maintaining a tuition freeze for two more years.
No amount of efficiency, short of damaging layoffs, is going to offset that in the short run. Moreover, tuition hikes after a freeze expires could price some in-state students out of a Wisconsin school.
This is a very different proposal than Walker’s failed push four years ago to try to split UW-Madison out of the larger System. The governor will unveil details of his plan and larger spending priorities Tuesday.
So far, many lawmakers — including some of the governor’s fellow Republicans who control the statehouse — appear wary of such a deep reduction to the System. That’s reassuring. The proposed $300 million cut may be a trial balloon that deflates. Yet some sort of trim is coming, given the big budget shortfall.
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Besides higher education, Walker should emphasize the importance of technology and innovation in his budget plan.
Wisconsin’s traditional employment sectors of manufacturing, agriculture and tourism are huge and contribute a lot to the state’s prosperity. Yet most of the new, good-paying jobs of the future will come from entrepreneurs who launch small businesses that innovate and rapidly expand their reach around the globe. Our universities — especially UW-Madison — are incubators of ideas and talent to accelerate that growth.
The Wisconsin Technology Council, a nonprofit that advises policymakers, offered state leaders some smart suggestions Thursday. If the governor doesn’t include some of the Tech Council’s proposals in his budget plan, the Legislature should add them or draft separate bills.
The Tech Council suggested raising a cap on incentives for key investment in state companies. The limit hasn’t been raised in a decade, and the credit leverages multiple times its value in private dollars. Another good idea is ending an unusual tax on capital that hits early-stage companies that aren’t even pulling in revenue yet. In addition, the governor should expand the ability of students to earn college credits while still in high school.
Walker this week said he’s committed to expanding broadband access to more Wisconsin communities and schools. That’s an excellent priority. More small businesses, especially start-ups in rural areas, need high-speed Internet to succeed in the global economy.
A miner and a sailor have been on Wisconsin’s state flag for more than a century, and the governor just highlighted a welder.
All of Wisconsin’s hard-working people and professions are important. But the state budget shouldn’t shortchange the emerging jobs and opportunities of the future.