The Arizona Desert Lamp

As the Budget Turns

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 29 January 2009

Protest FAILEven before the student protest began, the Legislature had already backed down from its original proposal:

PHOENIX — House Republicans are prepared to adopt a budget plan that cuts $121 million from the state’s three universities, half as much as had originally been suggested, the head of the chamber’s Appropriations Committee said Tuesday.

. . .

Kavanagh’s plan calls for $129 million in spending reductions for higher education, with $8 million of that from the regents’ own budget, leaving them to divide up the remaining $121 million. He said that is just $29 million more than the board itself offered to cut earlier this week.

This confirms exactly what I thought before — the proposed budget was a “shock and awe” sort of approach, scaring the University and its associated allies so that the budget cuts that the Legislature was actually going after would be achievable.

Of course, it won’t take long for ASA, ASUA, et al. to start crowing about their “victory,” regardless of the fact that budgetary decisions are never made on the basis of passion and rah-rah, but rather on horse trading and cloakroom deals. Even within the article, it appears that university officials are starting to get cocky:

But the Board of Regents is rejecting the plan as still unacceptable.

. . .

“Our leadership here is firm on the $100 million,” [Andrea Smiley] said. “It’s really what the universities believe they can bear.” She pointed out that any new cuts come on top of a $50 million reduction in funding for universities imposed at the beginning of the budget year from their original $1.1 billion appropriation.

Yet the problem with this sort of approach becomes apparent when one reads that the new proposal from Kavanagh “saves a number of other services from the chopping block, including the Kids Care program, which provides nearly free health care to the children of the middle class.” Now, I personally would be more than happy to axe Kids Care — but I suspect that I’m in the minority. Would Ms. Smiley support ending this program to increase funding for the university? Would President Shelton argue for decreasing funding for K-12 programs to increase funding for his school?

Of course they wouldn’t. Yet the question remains: where would this money come from?

Smiley said other states are dealing with similar budget deficits without sharply cutting funding for higher education. But she sidestepped questions of whether the regents are suggesting that lawmakers raise taxes rather than cut programs.

. . .

But [NAU President John] Haeger said it would be wrong to try to fix the current budget mess — and a potential $3 billion deficit next year — solely by cutting spending. He said lawmakers need to look at other options, including “revenue enhancements,” meaning raising more money.

Props to Haeger for bringing up the first nominee for political euphemism of the year — “enhancements,” indeed. Thankfully, Arizona has a provision requiring 2/3 majority in both houses to raise taxes, which means that Arizona probably won’t be able to follow through on that no-good, very bad idea of raising tax cuts during a recession (or, really, ever — there are very few exceptions to this).

Such a response from the University is about as callous as they come: we want our university with the increases that we want — even if we have to tax people already struggling and end or diminish the programs that help them. You legislators are a bunch of ignorant Philistines!

This does, however, set the stage for President Shelton to be the Big Man on Campus (Policy), and accept something close to the currently proposed cuts. He will cast himself (and, by translation, the UA) in a good light with the Legislature, for his ability to toss aside dogmatism in light of fiscal toils. He will continue to earn praise from the university, due to his role in getting the cuts down to an acceptable number.

This brings us to the protests themselves. You really should read Laura Donovan’s on the scene reporting, but I would like to make additional points from the home front:

1. The DETH of rhetoric. During today’s Senate meeting, Senator Bryan Baker referred to President Tommy Bruce’s speech as one of the greatest speeches that he had ever heard. Thankfully, due to the event’s coverage by NPR, I was able to hear what seems to be the highlight of the speech:

“I’ve got one question: W – T – F? Where’s the money funding?”

“Where’s the money, Pearce? Your state owes money to Robert Shelton — that means you owe money to Robert Shelton.” The claim that these cuts will destroy higher education fall flat with such a speech — it seems that, at least so far as rhetoric is concerned, the university has done a fine job destroying education itself, thank you very much.

Incidentally, that sound you heard was the Internet eating itself.

2. The ouroboros strikes again. At risk of channeling my inner Schopenhauer,  I hear quotes like, “It was inspiring to be part of the political process,” and, “I’ll remember it for the rest for my life” (both taken from today’s Senate meeting), and sigh heavily. In reality, these protests are simply poor imitations of our parents’ demonstrations. They, at least, had the good sense to smoke joints and bring beer, to actually bring the ruckus and provide something for the Establishment to fear.

It was not so with this. Today’s event was a sterilized, PG version of the protests that actually meant something. Walking from today’s meeting, I overheard a student describing the event, saying that they played, “the Beatles’ “Revolution [presumably 1, rather than 9 – EML] and Bob Marley, you know, like that . . . .” We’re simply performing repeated iterations; except that there’s a transaction cost, and thus everything gets weaker, shoddier, less meaningful — so we’re not exactly repeating ourselves, but were almost slouching ourselves, one might say devolving . . .

UPDATE: Per Sen. Fritze’s comment, corrections have been implemented. My apologies.


8 Responses

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  1. […] by Evan Lisull on January 29th, 2009 Before students marched en masse, House Republicans had a deal on the table to cut $121 million from the university system’s budget. The ABOR turned its […]

  2. Emily Fritze said, on 29 January 2009 at 1:35 pm

    Not to be nit-picky but a couple of corrections:
    Bryan Baker referred to President Bruce’s speech at the Arizona Board of Regents meeting last week as one of the greatest speeches he had ever heard, not the one given at yesterday’s protest. Also, President Bruce’s quote was “I’ve got one question: W-T-F?…. Where’s the funding?”

  3. Matt Styer said, on 29 January 2009 at 1:53 pm

    I disagree with you on economics and taxes (obviously); I do in some sense agree with you that this was a sanitized protest. But we have to start somewhere. I’ll do a writeup of my on the scene take soon.

  4. Laura Donovan said, on 29 January 2009 at 8:01 pm

    The protests were mild, but Arizona universities don’t have activist reputations. It was still nice to see 1,100 UA students fighting the good fight.

  5. […] Culture, Politics by Evan Lisull on February 24th, 2009 After our banal and rather ineffective protests, it’s a bit wild to see a group of NYU students come at the problem from the other extreme, […]

  6. […] such cuts were proposed, President Bruce replied, “WTF? Where’s the funding?” Now, the tables have been turned: That means less […]

  7. […] Bruce’s account, which were used to pay for buses, pizza, and t-shirts at last year’s DETHFEST. (which belies further the myth that ASA is somehow “independent” of ASUA, even though […]

  8. […] other dispatches into the continuously cyclical nature of humanity, read here, here, and here. Image courtesy of the Flickr Commons. Possibly related posts: (automatically […]

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