August 21, 2008

Scorched earth valedictory from UW chancellor

WHOA! See that mushroom cloud rising over Madison?

It's the bomb set off by outgoing University of Wisconsin Chancellor John D. Wiley. In a farewell message in Madison Magazine -- From Crossroads to Crisis -- Wiley has scorched some Wisconsin institutions. Like the Legislature. And especially Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state's largest business organization, which he calls "the single biggest obstacle to the recovery of Wisconsin's economy."

"The business community and our university are stuck in a swamp," Wiley writes, in his 3,000-word valedictory.

Regarding legislators, Wiley -- who leaves office at the end of August -- says:
"A depressingly large number of meetings (with legislators) began with a monologue about how all the state's problems were caused by the policies and positions of the other party, and how things would get better quickly if we just came out publicly in support of their own party's position.

"Too often, the tirades were accompanied by a warning of dire consequences if I spoke in public opposition to measures I felt would harm the university, or a sharp rebuke if I had recently committed the sin of thanking a member of the opposite party for helping the university with some issue.

"Until a couple of years ago, I was also frequently warned or threatened about the need for "the university" to get more involved in providing campaign contributions if we expected any sympathetic reactions, as if I had any role in telling university employees whom to support. That practice, at least, seems to have stopped, probably because of a number of felony convictions for similar behavior."
Wiley aims most of his firepower at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, which directs its 4,000 member companies to support its goal of making Wisconsin "the most competitive state in the nation."

Wiley writes:
"Over the years, I've had the opportunity to closely examine the strategies -- both the public rhetoric and actions -- WMC employs to pursue that goal. Apparently, the organization's definition of being competitive is being among those states with the lowest taxes, lowest wages, and least regulation in the nation.

"According to 2007 U.S. Census Bureau numbers, Wisconsin currently has the eleventh-highest per capita state tax revenues in the nation, and WMC cites the statistic as evidence that Wisconsin is a "tax hell." But look at the ten states with higher per capita taxes than Wisconsin: Hawaii, Wyoming, Connecticut, Minnesota, Delaware, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Jersey, California and New York. Nine of the ten have higher per capita income than Wisconsin. In particular, Minnesota, our demographic twin, has the fourth-highest per capita taxation, and they're knocking our socks off economically."
Wiley makes the case that states with higher per capita tax rates also have higher per capita income, "and lower taxation hasn't made the economies of Tennessee and Alabama any better in ways that benefit the citizens of those states."

When it comes to wages, Wiley writes:
"WMC routinely opposes most measures favored by labor unions, and most measures aimed at improving the lot of entry-level and low-income workers who are essential to our economy. But this opposition is not a business or an economic position; it is a political position based on an era and an economy that no longer exist. The high-tech companies that are the future of Wisconsin's economy couldn't care less about hypothetical "minimum-wage" jobs: They don't have any such jobs." Wiley says the state needs more high-paying jobs, and asks, "Where in WMC's political agenda is there any acknowledgment of the singular importance of creating more high-income jobs, or any support for the things it takes to do that? Automatic WMC opposition to any proposed state regulation is also both outdated and contrary to the common-sense views of most citizens and business leaders."
There's more. Wiley raps WMC for its "unconscionably scurrilous personal attacks on Justice Louis Butler" and says, "If this isn't a wake-up call for WMC members to get control of the political extremists on their staff, I don't know what would qualify... It pains me greatly to say this, but I believe (and many former WMC board members agree) that WMC has, somehow, passively allowed itself to be hijacked by highly partisan, ideologically driven staff. WMC has evolved from being a strategically focused business organization to being a partisan political lobbying organization. This, combined with WMC's wealth and undeniable political influence and effectiveness, has made WMC the single biggest driver of our toxic political environment and, thus, the single biggest obstacle to the recovery of Wisconsin's economy."

You can read Wiley's full screed here.

Be sure, also, to read the response quickly issued by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.

Addendum, 8/21: The Republican Party of Wisconsin issued a statement this afternoon decrying Wiley's focus on the WMC, while ignoring "the millions of dollars WEAC has poured into Wisconsin's legislative campaigns over the past thirty years in support of a job killing, big government agenda." WEAC is the Wisconsin Education Association Council, which represents 92,000 teachers in the state.

Said the GOP: "In what appears to be an effort to settle some political scores on his way out the door, Wiley this week complained of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce’s third party spending in campaigns, but made no mention of the massive role WEAC has played during the past three decades, nor of the spending made by the Democrat front group Greater Wisconsin Committee."

Meanwhile, the Capital Times reports that Wiley's successor, incoming UW-Madison Chancellor Carolyn "Biddy" Martin "moved to town on Friday -- and her belongings finally arrived at Olin House, the official residence of the chancellor, on Monday."


  1. If I didn't know better I would have thought his comments about WMC were aimed at the labor unions in WI.

  2. How nice it is that the Post is so fair in the stories they cover perhaps no longer J-T lite but the Shepherd's Express Lite.
    Glad to know that the Post is doing well so the owners can pay the higher taxes for all the programs they back.