UNDATED (WSAU) For the first time, Wisconsinites are spending more tax money to send criminals to prison than to send kids to college. Governor Scott Walker and Republican lawmakers budgeted $2.2-billion dollars for the Corrections Department in the current two-year budget – and only $2.1-billion for the University system.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reviewed over 20 years of state budgets – and it found that the trend was building over that time with numerous policy changes. Both parties are responsible. And the same trend is happening nationally. New prisons have mushroomed throughout Wisconsin since 1990, and corrections costs have jumped 620-percent in that time. But the Walker budget held prison costs steady, mainly by cutting benefits and ending generous overtime policies. Public funding for the U-W, meanwhile, has gone down over the last decade while enrollments have jumped 10-percent. Unlike other agencies, the U-W can raise tuition – which it’s been doing by 5.5 percent in each of the last few years. It can also seek more private funds.
U-W President Kevin Reilly says the system is quote, “coming up against a wall.” He said the current budgeting trends cannot continue – or else the state will not meet its obligation to educate its people for the workforce. With the next state budget looming, lawmakers are starting to talk about funding options for the U-W, and addressing prison costs further. But Todd Berry of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance says it won’t be easy, as Medicaid health costs eat up a larger share of the budget.