Walker: $300 million cuts to UW system are 'manageable' and 'realistic'

Senate halts proposal to increase universities' autonomy

Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin not only halted Gov. Scott Walker's (R) proposal to give the University of Wisconsin (UW) system more autonomy, but also plan to reduce Walker's planned $300 million cuts to the system.

UW System chief: I'll step down if new budget slashes $300M, academic freedom

Rep. John Nygren and Sen. Alberta Darling, co-chairs of the Legislature's budget committee, say they are waiting on estimates regarding state revenue before deciding by how much to restore the system's budget. They will draw up a new plan this month, they say.

However, Walker is pushing to reinstate his original plan, calling it "manageable" and "realistic."

Background

If approved by the Legislature, the plan in Walker's budget proposal would have exempted the Board of Regents from certain state rules and processes, awarding them more power over construction and service contracting. Simultaneously, the budget would cut state aid by almost 13%.

Under the plan, the UW System would have been able to determine staff wages, issue bonds, and control more decisions. UW's tuition freeze (begun in 2013) would continue for two more years, at which time the Board of Regents could set tuition prices itself—unless the Legislature preemptively passes a bill extending the freeze or limiting rate increases.

It would have also transformed the system's 26 campuses into a public authority, funded by sales tax revenue in the form of a block grant, which would increase yearly based on inflation. This would also give the system control over wages, tenure, sick leave, and shared governance.

To award that autonomy, Walker cut significant portions of the state statute that governs the UW system, including tenure and shared governance.

Pushing pause

"We think it's an idea we should look at. We're just not prepared to implement it in this biennium," Darling says.

Two business groups—one in Madison and one in Milwaukee, issued  a statement to the Legislature asking them to protect the state's economy by limiting budget cuts to the university system.

"The University of Wisconsin is an economic engine that fuels innovation and supplies a key source of talent for the entire state and we must focus on investing in that talent... At a time when there is growth and momentum in Wisconsin’s economy, we cannot afford to stall this engine," says Zach Brandon, chamber president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce board of directors (Marley et al., Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 5/5; AP/Minneapolis Star Tribune, 5/7).

The takeaway: Lawmakers in Wisconsin say they will reduce Gov. Scott Walker's proposed $300 million budget cut to the University of Wisconsin System but are not yet sure by how much. They also will not proceed with Walker's plan to award the system more autonomy.


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