Killing the Goose that Lays the Golden Egg

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March 9, 2011

Each day the woman waited for the goose to lay an egg. Each day the goose delivered a golden egg. But she wanted more. She killed the goose and found nothing. One of Aesop’s most famous fables reminds us of the folly of being overly greedy to the destruction of our future.

This past week, in a letter to school board members, the School Board Association described the recently released state budget with these words: [The budget] is balanced largely by deep cuts to or the elimination of existing programs… including public K-12 education.  The Governor’s budget dramatically reduces state funding for schools and local governments over the next two years.

Local school boards rush to do the math on what cuts mean to our schools; cuts much deeper than the state has ever faced resulting in big changes. Funding cuts in education are not limited to local schools.

Universities and technical colleges face serious cuts. The state’s flagship UW Madison would be privatized, leading local chancellors to wonder if cutting the wealthy Madison campus free dooms the rest to strangled resources.

And at a time when campuses are flooded with workers returning to retrain, Technical Colleges must grapple with a cut of nearly a third of state funding.

Education is the engine that drives our economy; the goose that lays our golden eggs. In Western Wisconsin we value the resources UW campuses bring to our local cities. Tech College campuses are important partners with local businesses – providing an educated workforce for a growing economy.

As the Legislature deliberates the proposed state budget, job creation is a priority. But we must remember when businesses locate to a new area one of the first things they look for is educational opportunity.

Forbes Magazine ranks communities where people most want to live, work and start a business. Last April, Forbes ranked the Best Small Places (under 250,000) to run a business and pursue a career as areas “with reasonable business costs, strong economic outlooks, and a solid quality of life.”

Wisconsin placed first as the state with the most cities in the top 120 Best Small Places to run a business and pursue a career – with nine cities. Texas came in second with eight. Indiana was third with seven. No other state had more than five.

Last July, Portfolio.com, a national business news site, ranked mid-sized cities that offer the best quality of life. Madison was ranked 4th in the top ten. The criteria used: “Healthy economies, good housing markets and good schools.”

Economists mention over and over as desirable when rating communities – good schools, a strong university system, low crime, an attractive environment and modern transportation. These things are all on the chopping block in the proposed budget.

There are conflicting approaches to building Wisconsin’s communities – both creating great places to live and attracting and retaining businesses.

One theory says you cut taxes and give tax breaks to multi-national companies. But there is very little evidence that tax breaks bring people to a community.

The other theory says you create a vibrant community – including good schools, safe streets, stimulating universities, parks and recreation opportunities – and business will locate and create jobs.

Many decisions in the recently released budget were made with the first theory in mind. But their effect is to decimate the communities we value. From the mundane – like no more recycling programs – to the very successful Main Street program that assists many local communities – to the massive cuts in all aspects of education.

When businesses locate to a new community or a family decides to start businesses in a new town, quality matters. New residents look at what kind of school exists. Does the school have extracurricular activities, gifted and talented programs, afterschool activities? What is the quality of the university or the parks?

It is the quality of life that attracts people and businesses to a community.

Before we close our schools, shutter our technical colleges and privatize our universities, let us remember other budgets were fixed without such Draconian actions. Two years ago we faced a budget deficit twice as large and we met this challenge with a balanced approach.

Overturning 60 years of labor practice and peace, driving a wedge through every community across the state, taking over decisions historically made locally and refusing to talk or negotiate is not the Wisconsin way.

Sacrificing our schools, technical colleges and universities today for the sake of ideology sacrifices Wisconsin’s future.


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