WestConn Safe From Budget Cuts

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by Josh Durkin

Students work hard to convince their legislators that to close WestConn as a potential solution to part of the budget deficit would be an economic blunder.

by Josh Durkin

Well-dressed, well-groomed and well-prepared, students from Western Connecticut State University entered the state capitol, took quick direction from WestConn professor Dr. Christopher Kukk, and sought out their legislators. They worked to convince their legislators that to close WestConn as a potential solution to part of the budget deficit would be an economic blunder.

Alert, calm, and collected, the students wrote paragraph-length statements and arguments to state legislators in an effort to lobby for WestConn and get answers about the budget deficit’s affect on WestConn. The meeting was held at 10:30am on March 18, 2009 and was hosted by Janice Geigler (R-138) at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

In the previous week, rumors had spread among faculty and students at WCSU that a democratic lobby had proposed the idea of closing a Connecticut State University campus, specifically WestConn, in order to fix the budget deficit.

State Representative Bob Godfrey (D-110) addressed the issue in the meeting. “First cut spending, second cut taxes, and third, bargain,” said Godfrey, who went on to explain that the three-legged approach to a recession involves some cuts across the board. He assured the WestConn contingent several times that the school would not be closed as a result.

Godfrey and advisor to the Senate Republican Committee David Cappiello noted that much of the process of government in Connecticut needs reassessment. Of note, Cappiello mentioned a hospital plan for UConn that would cost $450 million while there is also talk of shutting a different hospital down, highlighting the disorganized state of the budget.

The WestConn students questioned the legislators directly with a panel consisting of Andrew Wetmore, Edmund Breitling, Ethan Breitling, Nate Cullerton and Dave Rolfing. WestConn students and faculty sat behind the panel of questioners.

The legislators and students acknowledged early on the improbability of WestConn closing, however it remained an undertone for the entire meeting. Instead the speakers focused on how much economic pain the university faces.

WestConn student and Vice President of the Student Government Association Ethan Breitling remarked, “We don’t want the cuts to cripple our students.” Breitling explained that WestConn is beneficial to Connecticut because it services not only citizens local to Danbury, but local to the state.

WestConn Board of Trustee member Andrew Wetmore said, “I would like a promise from you that you are not going to cut our professors; they are the backbone of our university.” Wetmore then outlined that WestConn is already understaffed and cannot afford any more cuts.

In his closing arguments, Senator Michael McLachlan (R-24) remarked “Western Connecticut is the superstar of the state university system.” McLachlan also acknowledged that the idea of WestConn being shut down was among many proposed, and that the idea was extreme.

“We’re not going to get through this without everyone sharing in the pain,” said State Representative Jason Bartlett (D-2). Bartlett acknowledged WestConn’s importance to the Danbury area. He also acknowledged the value WestConn has to the local and state economy by providing the state with jobs and revenue.

“What are the proposals from people who want to raise taxes?” asked WestConn student Sara Waterfall. Godfrey took the opportunity to explain tax credits and an area of government that will be evaluated for efficiency, saying that there are many areas in the governing process that need to be reworked, and doing so would save money. Cappiello mentioned that there are many other areas of the budget where cuts can be made other than education.

Before the meeting, WestConn student Sean Swanson helped direct students to the rooms where they could leave written messages for their legislators. “It’s kind of weird that people are so up in arms with it,” said Swanson. “There’s no chance that it’ll happen.” According to Swanson, the proposed unbalanced budget was a reason that the potential closing of WestConn appeared on a bullet list of solutions to the state’s budget deficit.

“The legislature is saying ‘look, if you refuse to allow us to balance the budget and keep all options on the table, such as those tax increases, these are the kinds of proposals that we would have to consider,’” said Swanson.



Originally published in Hat City Entertainment, April 2009

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