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Political Corruption in Wisconsin: How This $300 Million Dollar Education Cut Might be Connected to a Stalled Divestment Movement on Campus.

This semester, the Governor pushed a notorious budget for the state of Wisconsin: 300 million gutted from Wisconsin's public education, Wisconsin Public Radio wiped off the map, 1.3 billion borrowed for transportation infrastructure, and 250,000 for research on the health consequences of wind energy.

It might seem disconnected, but let’s dial the clock back a little bit.

In November 2014, there was a little amendment put on the ballot called the Transportation Fund amendment, which would deliver more funds to transportation in Wisconsin. The Daily KOS warned “Watch out for ALEC on your ballot” outlining the amendment’s ties to the group, The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which somehow keeps its non-taxed non-profit 501(c)(3) status despite being a political lobbying group that is funded by some of the largest corporations. ALEC was a major player behind legislation that helped dismantle Wisconsin unions, and increased funds for fossil fuel transportation. In 2011, UW’s renowned but humble historian William Cronon connected ALEC and the Governor’s legislation to big oil and coal billionaires, The Koch Brothers. Not long after, Walker’s connection to Koch Industry was made even more clear when he accidentally took a prank call by astounded Journalist, Ian Murphy, pretending to be David Koch. But now, instead of unions, it is Wisconsin’s education at the chopping block.

Walker is proposing to cut 300 million dollars from the University System, a cut even Chancellor Blank agrees is too deep and damaging to recover from. Walker stands by it though, applauding his move for giving the University system private status and more autonomy from the state. But, the funny thing is he never talked about how the Board of Regents would remain intact; a major deciding body for the University of Wisconsin Madison that is appointed by the state. And he definitely forgot to mention that he personally appoints these Regents. It might have just slipped his mind that that by the end of his term he will have appointed not one, not 3, but all of the members of the Board of Regents.

Let’s dial the clock forward a year.

In 2012 climate change activist leader Bill McKibben came to Madison for his “Do the Math” tour, where he simply says “We can emit 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide and stay below 2°C of warming...Burning the fossil fuel that corporations now have in their reserves would result in emitting 2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide – five times the safe amount.”. He used this as a foundation for his argument that fossil fuel stock is not only overvalued, but is also an investment in an unlivable future

Climate activist group 350 formed in 2012 (later to form the Fossil Free UW Student Coalition) to address climate change on campus. They formed a divestment campaign, urging the university of Wisconsin to divest their stock from fossil fuel. The campaign gained many signatures, including UW faculty researcher and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr. Jonathan Patz.

When 350 UW first approached the UW Foundation and Board of Regents (the two entities which need to be convinced for the University to take an action) on divestment, the UW Foundation president Mike Knetter was nonchalant about the idea, and said as long as students were on board it would be fine. When he was approached 2 months later with over 2,000 student signatures, he said he would not talk about or entertain this issue any longer. Why the change in tone?

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Board of Regent member, Joshua Inglett, had his appointment mysteriously revoked by Walker after Inglett signed the recall petition against Walker. Maybe it has to do with the fact that if the University passes divestment, the university’s support from the state is at stake. Which could be related to the fact that the state’s Governor, Scott Walker, is supporting ALEC legislation. Which could be related to the fact that ALEC is funded by two of the richest people in the world, the Koch Brothers, who got almost their entire inheritance off of fossil fuel. Which could be related to why Walker is confusingly spending 1.3 billion dollars on transportation while undercutting the institutions that are the bedrock of our state.

Just something to think about.


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