MADISON, Wis. — With his poll numbers sagging among younger voters and news that the Class of 2014 is burdened with the most student loan debt in history, Gov. Scott Walker has deployed his right-wing media stenographer, radio talk show host Charlie Sykes, to offer a defense of his record on the student loan debt issue. Unfortunately, according to One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross, Walker’s actions, including tuition hikes and cuts to student aid, have done more harm than good.
“Gov. Walker and his sycophants like Charlie Sykes that regurgitate the Governor’s talking points can spin all they like. The fact remains that under Gov. Walker the student loan debt crisis in Wisconsin has gotten worse, not better, because of what he has done to students and not done for borrowers.”
Ross noted that in emails between Gov. Walker and Sykes, released as part of a criminal investigation that resulted in the criminal convictions of six close Walker aides and associates, Walker provided Sykes with direction on making open record requests from his office and suggestions on messages to deliver on his radio show.
Sykes, in a recent column on the Journal Communications underwritten website “Right Wisconsin,” has argued that Gov. Walker has taken a leadership role on the issue of student loan debt. However, Ross noted, Sykes’ attempt to provide political cover for Walker ignores the complete record of the Governor including:
Hiking tuition and cutting state support for public education: In his first budget, Gov. Walker enacted an 11% tuition increase for University of Wisconsin schools. Students will pay an additional $214 million in tuition over Gov. Walker’s four years in office because of his budget. Walker has also cut state funding for the University of Wisconsin and technical college system by nearly $400 million in his two state budgets.
Flat-lining and cutting state financial aid: Under Gov. Walker, state financial aid programs for eligible students have received no new funds, even as double-digit tuition increases were signed into law. In addition, Gov. Walker phased out the Wisconsin Covenant program, signing into law a measure reducing state tuition assistance by $38 million over two years.
Refusing to help current borrowers: Gov. Walker let legislation die that would have helped current student loan borrowers refinance their loans and deduct student loan payments from their state taxes, just like you can with a mortgage. Despite entreaties from legislators, Walker has refused to call a special session to revive legislation to help student loan borrowers.
“Current students, recent graduates and their families have been increasingly squeezed by a system where cuts in aid to higher education have led to skyrocketing tuition and stagnant financial aid for eligible students“ said Ross. “Add in profiteering by Wall Street banks and even the federal government off the interest on student loans and you’ve got a system stacked against students and borrowers.”
According to original research by One Wisconsin Institute, student loan debt has significant, negative effects not just on borrowers, but also the state’s economy. Borrowers are significantly more likely to rent versus own their home and buy a used versus new vehicle. According to the research, over $200 million in new vehicle sales are lost annually, directly attributable to student loan debt.
Ross concluded, “There are common sense solutions, like helping borrowers refinance student loans, that will help stop higher education from becoming a multi-decade debt sentence instead of a path to the middle class. Unfortunately, Gov. Walker has chosen to ignore them, while making the crisis in Wisconsin more dire with policies like hiking tuition and freezing financial aid for eligible students.”