from: Green Bay Press-Gazette
June 16, 2002
Today's tax relief burdens all our children tomorrow
by Bruce Shepard
Chancellor, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
Wisconsin faces a serious structural budget deficit. One-time money from the
state's settlement with tobacco companies will get us past the November election.
But, get ready for a real budget crisis come next January.
Avoiding the pain as long as possible may be only human. Foresight
and wanting a better future for our children is, also, quintessentially
As the proud chancellor of your university, I see this through
the lens of higher education.
Across the country and certainly in Wisconsin, the percentage
of state resources going to higher education has been declining. This has been
a decades-long trend as states respond to new needs, prominent among these being
expansion of corrections systems and a shift to the state level in funding for
schools and other formerly local responsibilities.
As needs for state support have expanded, state revenues have
been affected by the popularity of tax rebates and tax limitation measures.
What happens as state support for higher education declines? Tuition
goes up. It goes up faster than the rate of inflation because it is picking
up a larger percentage of the costs. Students and their families are paying
more and more of the cost of public higher education.
Simultaneously, financial aid programs have been shifting away
from direct support and toward assorted loan programs.
end result is found in dramatic increases in student debt.
graduates are leaving with debt levels far too high to be able to be repaid
at, say, a salary that a beginning teacher or nurse could expect.
The statistics on student debt are staggering. Even at the University
of Wisconsin-Green Bay, where student debt is among the lowest in the UW System,
the average student receiving loans graduates with debt of about $12,000. For
some, though, the levels of debt are substantially higher.
How, over 200 or more years, have generation after generation
helped to expand the American dream? By investing in our future. And in our
We do it publicly through supporting K-12 education and expanding
access to higher education. We do it privately as parents, stretching to cover
college costs and to build equity really, for our kids through
things like meeting mortgage payments.
The state of Wisconsin is moving in the opposite direction. The
state faces a looming structural deficit built because in good times we gave
ourselves tax rebates.
What happens if we continue on that track?
I think the answer is simple. And ugly.
We, the older generation, will be forcing our children into higher
and higher levels of debt so that we can enjoy modest tax relief.
In the past, children owed their parents' generation an enormous
debt of gratitude. Now, they simple owe.
I believe that those who would cater to selfish instincts as they
seek to shape the public good underestimate our higher aspirations. And they
underestimate the continuing powerful relevance of the American dream
O ffice of the Chancellor
David A. Cofrin Library, Suite 810
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay
2420 Nicolet Drive
Green Bay, WI 54311-7001
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