Office of the Chancellor


Reprinted from: Green Bay Press-Gazette
June 16, 2002

Today's tax relief burdens all our children tomorrow

Guest column 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 human.
    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.
    The end result is found in dramatic increases in student debt.
    Some 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 children.
    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

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O ffice of the Chancellor
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