Now that the so-called “CPA Caucus” has brought its powerful microscope to bear on the UW-System budget, perhaps these four horsemen of the monetary apocalypse could shine some light on the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, which has “lost track” of millions and millions of taxpayer dollars and has self-admittedly failed to follow fundamental accounting procedures.
For those who don’t follow the game closely, a bit of background.
Several days ago the “CPA Caucus” – that’s what they call themselves – took a close look at the UW-System budget and found it has a $648 million dollar cash reserve.
CASH RESERVE! CASH RESERVE!
The politicians and talk show hosts quickly translated that difficult-to-understand accounting term as “slush fund”.
The “CPA Caucus” (all Republican state representatives: Howard Marklein, Chris Capenga, John Klemke, and Dale Kooyenga) are four guys who are actual CPA’s. I’d never heard of them before the UW Cash Reserve flap, but then I don’t follow politics that closely.
When the four CPA/Legislators sent ‘round their news escape about the cash reserve, pundits and talk show hosts of every stripe pounced. This was the worst piece of information ever uncovered, to hear some of them. My old pal from the Fox Cities, Mike Ellis, nearly popped a blood vessel in his apoplectic rants against Kevin Reilly, the head of the UW System. Hiding vast sums of cash, cash which, well, it was cash, and to a politician, cash is crack.
Another politician, Robin Vos, whose IQ is somewhere between the average May temperature of Lake Mendota and the July average daily high temperature in Madison, proclaimed to all who would listen that the UW had done nothing but embarrass the state time and again.
That assessment from Vos may be the single most stupid and least truthful statement ever uttered by a politician anywhere. If not, it’s got to be in the top five. Our state legislature has done more to embarrass this state in the last ten minutes than anything ever done by any UW System school in the past 165 years.
But the talk show hosts grabbed onto this stuff like BluRay players falling off a truck. The $648 million quickly became “a billion dollar slush fund” in talk show lingo, and the usual suspects – Charlie and Mark in Milwaukee, Jerry in Green Bay, Miss Vicki in Madison – even my pal Mitch Henck on WIBA-AM in Madison did their best to demagogue this “billion dollar slush fund” into the worst evil ever perpetrated upon the state.
One morning last week I was listening to Mitch rant about it, and he opened the phone lines to his callers to allow them to weigh in. I was on the Beltline headed for my health club - Princeton Express near PD and Seminole Highway - when the first caller stunned Mitch by saying he thought given the size of the UW System (5.9 Billion dollar budget, 181,000 students on 26 campuses), a cash reserve of 648 million seemed prudent.
For the math-challenged, as a percentage, that 12% cash reserve the UW System has is almost identical to the cash reserve the City of Madison runs: 12%.
The next caller was a woman, who also said she thought it was prudent. Mitch said “well, you must not be the parent of a UW student, because the parents are the ones who are getting jabbed here”. The woman paused a beat, and then said “I put two kids through the UW. I had to take a second job to do it, but I did it. And I think they got a great education and I think the 648 million dollar reserve is prudent”. Wisely, Mitch moved on. (This is what the young folks call “getting pwned”.)
The next caller, probably a regular, because Mitch recognized him, and said “you’re a businessman so I know you have strong feelings about this slush fund” – and, damn! The businessman said he thought, as a businessman, that the cash reserve was prudent. Pwned again!
By this time I was sitting in my huge gas-sucking foreign-made SUV in the parking lot of the health club, enjoying a laugh at my pal Mitch’s expense, and a FOURTH caller said “prudent”. Then I went in and pounded the treadmill and punished the weights. I’m not sure if Mitch was able to gin up any hatred for the UW system because by the time I was done with my routine, Robin was giving the news and then Mitch was on to another topic.
It’s the job of talk show hosts to frame topics to generate emotion (and calls), because I’m sure if Mitch were speaking from the heart, considering the high praise he has graciously heaped on the folks at UW Hospital who treated and rehabilitated him after his recent stroke, he knows the UW has done more good for this state by 9AM on any given day, than any politician will do in their entire career.
And, speaking of posturing – I know posturing is part of the politician’s stock-in-trade, and few are better at it than Michael Gary Ellis. However, far too many of the dweebs up there under the big top are what I would describe as somewhat clever, not intelligent. There’s a huge difference.
To borrow the title of a dear friend’s blog, Here’s The Thing: maintaining a cash reserve is prudent. There is simply no other way to look at it. You can argue that it shouldn’t take four CPA’s to decipher the UW System’s financial statement to uncover it, but you can also argue that hiding the cash reserve from the politicians is a very sound strategy, as well. In the most recent state budget, Governor Walker and his pals in the legislature raided at least 400 million dollars in funds for purposes other than which they were intended. And don’t get me going about Jim Doyle and the Transportation Fund.
Now, if only those men in the “CPA Caucus” would take a close look at the budget of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation – the outfit Walker and his government-hating pals set up to replace the Department of Commerce and thereby dole out high-paying patronage jobs to their pals in the private sector – they might be able to find where those missing millions are, and straighten things up around there.
Naw. Ain’t gonna happen.