MADISON, Wis. — Many of the state’s more than 800,000 student loan borrowers will be watching tonight’s gubernatorial debate to see how Gov. Scott Walker and former Trek executive Mary Burke address the $1.2 trillion student loan debt crisis, according to One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross.
“Mary Burke gets it on student loan debt, while Gov. Walker has been a disaster for borrowers and their families,” said Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Now Executive Director. “Student loan debt is a clear and present danger to our economy and has become a multi-decade debt sentence instead of a path to the middle class for hundreds of thousands of hard working Wisconsinites.”
In October 2013, Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine) and Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) introduced common sense reforms including refinancing and a tax break for borrowers in their historic Higher Ed, Lower Debt Act. Despite having 54 co-sponsors, Walker’s Republican allies killed the bill. Burke included these proposals in her comprehensive jobs and economic development blueprint for the state, making her the first gubernatorial candidate in the nation to specifically endorse the common sense plan of refinancing student loans.
In contrast, the record of Gov. Walker, who according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign has taken over $4 million from the banking and financial industries, has been disastrous for student loan borrowers:
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 more than $200 million in increased 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 Wisconsin 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.
Ross concluded, “Students and borrowers have done the right thing – they have worked hard and took on the personal responsibility of paying for their education. They’re not asking for a bailout, just a system that treats them fairly and gives them the shot at the middle class that they’ve earned. Mary Burke is listening to them and Gov. Walker is listening to the Wall Street bankers financing his campaign.”
Recently, Ruth Conniff, editor of The Progressive Magazine, penned a piece, “The student debt issue could decide the 2014 election.”