Gov. Scott Walker’s administration prepared two responses when the public learned his initial budget proposal removed the Wisconsin Idea from the state budget in February, including one to defend its removal, according to emails obtained Friday via an open records request.
In Feburary, Walker unveiled his plan to transform the UW System into a public authority model, granting it autonomy where currently the state Legislature has control. Initially included in this proposal was the deletion of references to “the search for truth" and improving "the human condition" in the UW System’s mission statement, commonly referred to as the Wisconsin Idea.
Soon after Walker’s budget address, his office released a statement that said the stricken lines were an oversight on the part of Walker’s administration and called the deletions a “drafting error.”
A second response, drafted by budget analyst Nathan Schwanz and never used by Walker’s spokespeople, stuck by the revisions to the UW System’s mission statement in the context of providing autonomy to the System under a public authority model.
“The Wisconsin Idea does not exist in the statutes or on paper alone. It exists in the hearts and minds of Wisconsinites across our great state which, in turn, drives the UW’s teaching, research, outreach and public service to move Wisconsin forward,” Schwanz drafted and submitted in an email to Walker advisor Waylon Hurlburt Feb. 4. “The Governor’s budget preserves this and provides the framework for the UW to better continue these efforts.”
The UW System had not asked for the changes to the mission statement to be made, Schwanz told Hurlburt in the same email.
One day after Schwanz sent that email to Hurlburt, Walker said the changes were an oversight on the part of those responsible for drafting the budget and would be removed from his proposal before being put to the state Legislature for a vote.
“Unfortunately, when my office told the budget staff to keep it simple, they took that to mean that we only wanted workforce readiness language in the mission when we really wanted the language added to the existing mission statement,” Walker said in a statement Feb. 5. “They also responded to UW staff that this change was not open for discussion because they were told to keep it simple and only add in workforce readiness language.”
The Department of Administration reinstated the Wisconsin Idea into the budget proposal in April when it submitted a list of errors and typos overlooked before the initial proposal was made.
In May, top Republicans on the state’s budget committee said they plan to remove Walker’s public authority model from the state budget. Co-Chairs state Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, and state Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said Tuesday they do not believe now is the right time to consider such a proposal.