Partisan wrangling over a “drafting error” in Governor Scott Walker’s state budget appears far from over. At Thursday’s Board of Regents meeting, it was apology accepted, from University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross. “The governor’s office has just recently issued a statement which explains what happened. I think he does a very good job of that, and I’d like to thank him for that,” Cross said, adding that he’d also received a call from Department of Administration Budget and Finance Administrator Michael Heifetz. Cross said Heifitz “apologized for what happened.”
Walker’s statement cited “simple miscommunication” as to why language altering the UW’s mission statement – also known as “The Wisconsin Idea” – made it into the budget. And while Cross accepted that explanation, Democrats – like state Senator Mark Miller – were not buying it. “His explanation is obviously not true,” said Miller (D-Monona). “And anybody that’s seen the evidence that’s come out can see right through it.”
Walker’s statement claimed that the governor “did not have much discussion about the mission statement.” He also said no one on his staff would be disciplined for what he characterized as a misunderstanding. Walker’s office released the statement after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the drafting file for the state budget bill contained at least two references – in December and again in January – of administration staffers requesting language changes to the UW’s mission statement.
Walker had already walked back the proposal on Wednesday, when his office said the changes to the century-old public service mission contained within “The Wisconsin Idea” were the result of a “drafting error” and would be removed from the budget.
But that admission and Thursday’s subsequent statement have down little to quell the skepticism of Democrats and advocates for the UW. “This was not a mistake, this was intentional on the part of the governor’s office,” said Miller. “He knew what he was doing, and it’s very clear that he knew what he was doing.”
“I’ll leave it somebody else to determine if there is a lie involved. I think that’s less important than to say that he showed no integrity in how he handled it,” said state Senator Janet Bewley (D-Ashland). “I don’t know if he lied or didn’t lie,” said state Representative Chris Taylor (D-Madison). “I think the point is that there was a serious attempt to trash and gut our university system.”