Monday, October 18, 2010

Wisconsin State Journal says invest in MATC

A recent Wisconsin State Journal (WSJ) editorial in support of MATC entitled "MATC deserves priority this fall" was in sharp contrast to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's (MJS) over the top coverage of MATC a week ago.

The catch-the WSJ piece was about Madison Area Technical College, while the MJS's was about Milwaukee Area Technical College, the Wisconsin Technical College System's large flagship campus with 55,000 students and 125 associate degree and diploma programs.

The MJS recently ran two front page, above the fold articles that inaccurately claimed MATC was facing a "looming financial crisis" and implied that bloated faculty salaries were the cause. The WSJ, in contrast, editorialized about the important role Madison Area Technical College is playing in providing dislocated workers with retraining and reviving the Wisconsin economy and endorsed a $131 million investment in the college.

Differences in Madison and Milwaukee faculty compensation, however, are minimal.

Madison's instructional cost per full time equivalent (FTE) student was 7th lowest in the 16 district system at $9,416, while Milwaukee's was 6th lowest at $9,485.

Madison total costs per FTE was 9th at $12,921, while Milwaukee's was 8th at $13,367.

Both have exceptionally high and stable bond ratings.

So if faculty compensation and fiscal management don't explain the differences in editorial tone and analysis, what does?

Perhaps the MJS's hostility to pubic employees and their unions explains their coverage. The former is evidenced by its on-going series of front page articles on public employee pay without a similar focus on exorbitant CEO compensation and or corporate corruption. The later is demonstrated by the papers treatment of its own employees who have experienced layoffs and salary cuts and the MJS's universal support for concessions.

Over the last five years from Harley Davidson to Mercury Marine, from the auto industry to the County, from MPS to MATC, the Journal Sentinel editorial Board has never editorialized about an employer demand for concessions it didn't support. In the case of MATC it proposes them even after acknowledging that the faculty union has given major concessions including voluntarily giving up a negotiated salary increase and agreeing to health care concessions.

The MJS's skewed coverage of MATC was also in startling contrast to its coverage of recent Public Policy Forum reports on the City and the County's budgets. Both studies documented real financial challenges, much more challenging than MATC's. In fact, the County's financial situation is so perilous that the Greater Milwaukee Committee says it is on the verge of bankruptcy and has proposed dissolving the County. The MJS has endorsed that proposal. Yet, its articles on the City and the County were buried on the third page of the local section.

While the Great Recession has intensified financial pressures on all units of local government, the single biggest cause of their structural financial problems is the rapid decline in state support. The City of Milwaukee's shared revenue has declined from 46% of its budget ten years ago to only 34% today. MATC's state aid has declined from 30% in 1990 to 13% today. Yet the MJS's articles fail to even mention unfunded state mandates and declining state revenues.

The WSJ editorial in support of a $131.7 million referendum begins:

Madison Area Technical College is on the front lines of putting people back to work and helping others keep their jobs in this challenging economy.

The community college is training — and re-training — tens of thousands of workers in south-central Wisconsin each year. And a slew of them are well past the age of traditional students.

It concludes:

...no unit of government is in a better position to address those needs than the local community college.

Vote “yes” for MATC on Nov. 2.

The entire editorial is linked .

21 comments:

Peter said...

While I wish I could add more to this, I think you've said just about all that I would. First, there absolutely must be support for our technical colleges; in general, but especially now more than ever. Second, the baloney attacks on public sector workers and our unions is just an ideological fetish of the MJS, among many other media outlets. While the Wisconsin State Journal is no bastion of progressive thinking, and it harbors lots of anti-public employee, anti-union writing, they at least saw the light with this referendum.

Here is something on which I can add more, though:

"While the Great Recession has intensified financial pressures on all units of local government, the single biggest cause of their structural financial problems is the rapid decline in state support."

It's not just the Great Recession. It's the fact that we have a broken revenue system in Wisconsin. The era of low-to-no taxes and an unfair distribution of tax incidence has meant that we inadequately source revenue for public institutions that underpin a democratic society. If we actually brought in enough revenue and from sources that can and should be paying, the Great Recession's impacts upon public budgets would not be as it is.

That said, the Great Recession is no excuse for an era of Great Concessions, even in the public sector. Aside from considerations of aggregate demand and the public sector backfilling some of this need right now, and aside from the faulty comparisons of public vs. private sector compensation (i.e. workers should not be jealous of public sector compensation but instead organizing for and demanding that they receive the same), public institutions like the two MATCs have the ability to pay, and there's no need for mass concessions.

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