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Reaching out to students and their check-writing parents, Gov. Scott Walker is promising another tuition freeze at UW System schools.
And now in the final weeks of his re-election showdown with Democrat Mary Burke, the first-term Republican is blaming her for past tuition hikes.
"With two sons in college, I know how hard it is to pay for school," Walker says in a TV ad released Oct. 20, 2014. "That’s why we froze tuition at UW campuses. I want to freeze it again in my next term. My opponent supported policies that increased tuition by 18 percent."
In the campaign, Burke has said she’d like to freeze tuition -- but only if more aid can go to the University of Wisconsin System at the same time. She’s emphasized larger income tax deductions for tuition and refinancing student loans.
But, looking back, is the governor right about Burke’s support of policies that led to an 18 percent increase?
Let’s hit the books.
The ad itself lists no footnote as evidence for the 18 percent figure and does not cite any specific policies backed by Burke, who served as head of the state Commerce Department under Gov. Jim Doyle from 2005 to 2007.
A Walker campaign news release about the ad simply offers the history of UW tuition increases approved in state budgets back to 1967, and Burke’s statement to a reporter in April 2005 that she supports Doyle’s positions "entirely." A campaign spokesperson pointed us to Burke’s general praise of two of Doyle’s budgets in place during her state government career.
None of that makes any direct link between Burke and tuition hikes.
That’s not surprising, given that Burke’s job was to grant and track state aid to businesses, not run the UW System, which sets tuition rates in conjunction with lawmakers and the governor.
We did a search of news stories from the time and found no statements by Burke about raising tuition.
She did, in 2007, praise a Doyle budget investment in more financial aid to help families better afford college.
More broadly, Burke promoted Doyle’s overall 2007-’09 budget as a "smart, responsible budget for Wisconsin businesses" that is "fiscally responsible, identifies our priorities for success, and invests in those priorities" while including "more than a dozen separate tax cuts, saving the taxpayers and businesses of Wisconsin $1.7 billion."
There’s no doubt UW tuition rose rapidly in the Doyle era, which ran from 2003 through 2010.
Tuition rates jumped 18 percent his first year, and 15 percent the second. But that was in the 2003-’04 and 2004-’05 school years -- before Burke arrived.
After that, increases ranged from 0 percent to 9.3 percent, depending on the year and whether it was a four-year or two-year school, UW-Madison or UW-Milwaukee. Increases were capped at about 5 percent for several years.
When Doyle took office, tuition at the system’s flagship UW-Madison campus was $3,854. When he left in 2010 it was $7,933.
If you look specifically at Burke’s time in state government, tuition rose 19 percent in those three years, with some variations for different UW campuses.
Under Walker, tuition went up 11 percent over his first two years, then was frozen for 2013-’14 and 2014-’15.
The difference -- and it’s a big one -- is that Walker directly controlled those changes while Burke had little or nothing to do with them.
We’ve been here before.
In March 2014, we rated False a Republican Party of Wisconsin claim it was Burke’s budget in 2007-’09 that contained a series of tax hikes. We concluded it is off base to put responsibility for the state budget and its thousands of provisions on an appointed cabinet secretary.
Likewise, it is wrong to blame a secretary for spending changes in another department.
Walker said, "My opponent supported policies that increased tuition by 18 percent."
Burke was in state government when that happened, but Walker offers no evidence that she backed tuition hikes other than Burke lauding her boss as she went to work for Doyle.
We rate his claim False.
Scott Walker campaign, "Tuition Freeze," Oct. 20, 2014
Scott Walker campaign press release, Oct. 20, 2014
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Scott Walker proposes another two-year UW System tuition freeze," April 11, 2014
Email exchange with Heather LaRoi, strategic communications manager, UW System university relations office, Oct. 22, 2014
Email exchange with Stephanie Wilson, Burke campaign spokeswoman, Oct. 21, 2014
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