Thursday, December 22, 2011

Choices, UConn And Bust

UConn is raising its tuition. Is anyone surprised?

The surprise, if any, might be checked at the door after reading the latest edition of Ted Mann’s magnum opus covering the first year of Connecticut’s first Democratic governor in twenty years.

Both Governor Dannel Malloy and the crowd of Malloyalists surrounding him are highly ambitious. They believe previous governors have been treading water. The state now has a progressive reformist at the helm who wants to “reinvent – his word – the state of Connecticut. As is the case with most modern progressives, education is a political palliative – good for what ails you; when you run out of options, boost education. Reformation, naturally, is costly, but politically popular. In the hands of Mr. Malloy and the Democratic legislature, any reform of education is likely to advance the interests of teachers at the expense of taxpayers.

Jonathan Pelto, himself an ardent liberal, reminds us that Mr. Malloy pointedly did not extend his “Shared Sacrifice” to municipalities when he was hammering out his budget with SEBAC, the union coalition authorized to negotiate union contracts with the state. Shared cost savings from teachers therefore were off the table before bargaining commenced.

Responding to a statement made by Malloy budget director Ben Barnes that cuts at UConn “were comparable to what the rest of state government took,” Mr. Pelto remarks in a careful analysis of tuition increases proposed by recently installed UConn President Susan Herbst, “This statement is blatantly false. In fact, there were a number of government programs that were not cut at all (such as municipal aid), with others that only received minor cuts and even a few programs that received increased state funding.”

The money “saved” by Mr. Malloy in state funding cuts to UConn has now been backfilled by Ms. Herbst through tuition increases.

Behold, Mr. Pelto writes, the Malloy version of “Shared Sacrifice”:

“The Malloy version of ‘Shared Sacrifice’ – More taxes for middle income families and then, as a result of state budget cuts, those same families will now face significantly higher costs to send their kids to college.”

At its best and worst, politics is all about making choices. If Mr. Malloy, the architect of Connecticut’s future, had not chosen to spend nearly $900 million on the UConn Health Center (UCHC), the pinkest of pink elephants, he would have had wads of cash on hand to defray tuition costs at the college proper. Why? Because Mr. Malloy and his Democratic controlled legislature had jacked up taxes sufficiently in their budget to produce the usual Connecticut surplus. And then he spent it on a roll of the dice.

A review of Mr. Mann’s serial account of the first year of the Malloy administration will show that Ms. Herbst was one of the prime movers in the re-invention of the UConn Health Center.

We discover from Mr. Mann’s account that Mr. Malloy at first told Ms. Herbst and Cato Laurencin, the head of UCHC, that he didn’t want to invest money in the rehabilitation of the ailing facility. Mr. Malloy and the Malloyalist had already performed a political audit: “If they were going to ask him to pour more money into that hospital, and take it between the eyes from every deficit hawk and editorial board in the state, well, they need to show him something bold.” It was Ms. Herbst who sold the reinvented UCHC to Jackson Laboratories.

“She's already begun the hard work at UConn of whacking back the weeds,” Mr. Mann wrote, “cutting undersubscribed Ph.D. programs and winnowing unnecessary expenditures to free up more funds for research. They're fundraising, and they're lousy with ‘free labor’: undergraduates desperate to work for course credit and resume-building lab experience. They are, in short, just the sort of forward-thinking host community a lab organization like Jackson ought to be looking for, she says.”

And now UConn now needs additional professors to reduce class sizes from 18 students per professor to 15. The most pampered institution in the state, UConn will now cover putative losses in state aid, said to be about $300 million by bumping up tuition 6 to 6.8 percent for the next four years.

The stinger here is that we all live in a world of finite choices -- and finite resources. Non-politicians learn to live within those parameters. Political choices have consequences. Those who do not like the consequences should have opposed the precipitating choices. They didn’t. Now, weeping copious tears, UConn students have been saddled with tuition increases. Really, it’s a bit of a crush watching those responsible for spilling the milk weeping crocodile tears over their spilt milk.
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