Dunleavy attack on higher education comes right out of Arduin's playbook

Those of us who have written about Alaska’s unprecedented budget fight haven’t done enough to put the role of temporary budget director Donna Arduin in context and appreciate that she is using a playbook with a predictable script.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s name is on the veto list, but he gave Arduin extraordinary leeway to decide Alaska’s future, while ignoring public testimony and the will of bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate.

It is essential to recognize, “that the 41 percent cut to the Alaska university system comes from a political script developed in the 1970s and perfected in the 1980s,” writes Christopher Newfield, a California literature professor and blogger about higher education funding who looks at this episode from a broader perspective.

This wider context has largely been missing from the debate in Alaska.

“The starting point is always to create a crisis,” he writes at Remaking the University. “Second, repeat a fairy tale in which the same or better services--the legit ones--can be had for less tax money, along with more prosperity and jobs. This was the task of the ‘Laffer Curve’ of Ronald Reagan fame, in which lower tax rates allegedly produce more business and therefore higher overall tax receipts, so the cuts pay for themselves and all the government stuff you want is still in place.”

The tattered playbook had to be modified to fit Alaska, of course, with the size of the Permanent Fund Dividend becoming a stand-in for questions about the flow of tax dollars and public services.

Third, instead a tax cut, promise a giant dividend, “creating a sugar high in the base while also blowing up the budget deficit. Fourth, use the big deficit to make huge destructive cuts, ideally big enough to change the agencies permanently.”

Enter Dunleavy’s operative from Outside, Arduin, who created Dunleavy’s budget without consulting the public.

“Her assumptions are far-right boilerplate: the public sector is straight waste, all regulation hurts business, only the private sector creates value, government activity should be privatized, its services are for moochers,” writes Newfield.

Nearly a decade ago he wrote an article on how Arduin’s short tenure in California led to long-term problems for higher education in that state.

“When Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor in 2003, in the middle of yet another three-year reduction in state higher education funding, his budget director, Donna Arduin, privately told university leaders that she would push for continued state funding cuts to force the University of California and the California State University to implement major hikes in tuition,” he wrote in this 2010 article for the American Association of University Professors.

“Arduin got much of what she wanted. Partly inspired by fear, university leaders signed a ‘compact’ with the Schwarzenegger administration that built in 7–10 percent annual tuition increases between 2005–06 and 2010–11. This meant that tuition would inevitably rise at two to three times the 3–4 percent increases targeted for state funds,” he wrote.

She lasted less than a year in California, but the University of California has never fully recovered, he said.

“They got scared off talking about rebuilding public funding to restore or improve quality. Now, after years of tuition freezes, they build state requests around promises to generate an extra 20,000 degrees or so per year for a decade, which will consume any new funds and more. The Arnold-Arduin shock doctrine has locked in privatization and stagnation,” he wrote.

He suggests that we need the following: consistent coverage of the results of the Arduin hatchet plan; an attack on the stupid theory that government has no value; candid coverage of the lies in the Dunleavy fiscal fantasy.

“Progressives are also going to have to bite the bullet and fight for mass scale budget literacy. Budgets are a dominant language of political life. Public systems and choices are more complicated than they were in the heyday of the party system, and people's educations haven't caught up. Nor have their desires to educate themselves about how public money makes things happen,” he wrote.


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