WisBusiness: Top Walker Cabinet member still optimistic on UW System plan

By Kay Nolan

For WisBusiness.com

BROOKFIELD — Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch says he and Gov. Scott Walker remain hopeful that the guv’s proposed split of UW-Madison from the rest of the university system will pass.

Speaking in Brookfield Wednesday at a gathering of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, he told the group it would bring a free-market approach to the university system similar to that of a corporate business.

He said Walker had originally hoped to extend autonomy to all of the UW System campuses — something Huebsch said he heard chancellors there call for 10 years ago. But Madison was the only campus to have done the research and have the logistics in place to carry out the plan, he said.

Earlier, he said: “I wouldn’t necessarily say we — the governor — has a fallback plan — ‘If you don’t like that, how about this?’ –but it’s a big enough issue that if a compromise is needed and desired, it could be worked toward. But I know the governor doesn’t think that would be as effective as what he originally intended.”

Huebsch also discussed the controversial collective bargaining changes, saying it was fears of a statewide walkout that led Gov. Scott Walker to spare police and firefighters from the changes.

“It had nothing to do with who supported whom,” said Huebsch. “I understand the skepticism, but it really did come down to we believed we were going to see people walking off the job. If there was chosen to be a statewide walkoff, we could not replace that.”

Huebsch said he remains firmly convinced that limiting collective bargaining rights for public workers is essential. He called the public worker unions offer to make concessions in wages and benefits “a media ploy, a PR ploy.”

He also commented on protesters in Madison, saying, “Two years ago, Democrats passed a budget repair bill in about 24 hours that raised taxes by $1.5 billion but the only reason you didn’t see protests on the Square from taxpayers is because they were actually out working.”

Huebsch, 45, told the group he considered Walker, 43, a mentor when Huebsch first was elected to the Assembly in 1994, even though Walker was himself a new lawmaker, elected in a special election just 16 months earlier.

“When an amendment comes up at a moment’s notice, and they frequently do, and you don’t have a chance to discuss it — as a new member, you’re still trying to figure out where the bathrooms are — Scott Walker was the guy that I looked to when the vote came up, especially if the debate hadn’t been convincing on both sides and I really didn’t know the issue that well,” he said. “I looked to see how Scott Walker was going to vote, because I knew he knew the issues and if worse came to worse, I could go to him and say, ‘Why did I just vote that way?’ ”

Huebsch told WisPolitics that he’d consider it a “tremendous compliment” to be called a “twin” or “clone” of Walker.

“We have similar backgrounds, we have similar family sets — we both have teenage sons,” said Huebsch. At the same time, Huebsch said while he agrees with most of Walker’s ideas, he can provide a different perspective by not having been raised “in the crucible of southeastern Wisconsin.”

Asked if the Walker administration has learned any lessons about its style of communication, Huebsch replied, “Yes, we’ve begun to learn some lessons, but you can craft the best message possible but it has to go through a media outlet. Certainly, in the state, I think we were given, at least initially, fair treatment. Nationally, I think that was lacking tremendously You’re running up against a media that isn’t inclined to help your message along.”

Huebsch said he expects the state budget to be resolved by the end of June. Huebsch said he hopes court challenges to the collective bargaining measures passed in February will be resolved before then.

The Supreme Court announced Wednesday that it has set a June 6 date to hear arguments on the matter.

If the matter is not resolved, Huebsch said, “I believe the Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said they will take those provisions and put them in the full budget, and it will be part of the entire budget so that those changes and savings will be realized.”

The event in Brookfield was attended by about 90 people, including a number of Waukesha County officials, including Brookfield Mayor Steve Ponto, Waukesha Mayor Jeff Scrima, Waukesha City Administrator Lori Luther, Waukesha Ald. Joe Pieper and former Lt Gov. and state Sen. Margaret Farrow.