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January 28, 2015

Lawmakers and UW System leaders react to Walker’s plan

UW System President Raymond Cross

UW System President Raymond Cross

University of Wisconsin System officials and state lawmakers charged with its oversight are reacting to Governor Scott Walker’s plans for the system’s future. Walker will include the plan as part of the 2015-’17 state budget proposal which he’ll formally announce next week.

Walker announced his plan to allow the UW System greater flexibility over its own resources by comparing it to Act 10, the signature achievement of his first term in office. “We gave local governments the tools that they needed, not just to respond to our budgetary changes, but to make decisions that not only made for a better fiscal situation but put them in a better position to perform well,” Walker said. “The same thing is true with the university.”

Walker’s plan includes a UW System Authority to administer an annual block grant, while giving the UW greater control over things like procurement, human resources and even some building projects. “I think it will make them more effective, more efficient, and ultimately more accountable to the taxpayers of this state.”

The plan comes with a price tag, in the form of some $300 million worth of cuts in state funding over the next two years, equal to about 13% percent of what the state provides to the UW System. “We were going to face these cuts no matter what, whether we got the flexibilities or authority or we didn’t,” said UW System President Ray Cross. “It allows us to look at this in a more positive light, with a lens towards the future.”

Walker would also keep the current tuition freeze in place for an additional two years. “We aren’t going to be raising tuition for the next two years, and after that, it will need to be justified in a thoughtful, rational way,” said Cross.

“We have a responsibility to maintain affordability and access for our students, to higher education in the state,” said UW Oshkosh Chancellor Andrew Leavitt. “I do not think that you’re going to see precipitous rises in tuition, simply because it would not be the responsible thing to do.”

“Making the UW a public authority has the potential to be a win-win situation,” said state Representative David Murphy, (R-Greenville) who chairs the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities. Murphy said keeping a lid on tuition once the freeze expires will be concern he’ll want addressed. “It’s not unprecedented for the system to have double-digit tuition increases. I certainly don’t want to see that happen. Then I think any of the good things that come out of this could be negated pretty quickly.”

UW Green Bay Chancellor Gary Miller said the 13% cut contained in the governor’s proposal is substantial. “It will require us to look at everything, and we will be a very institution when it’s over,” Miller said. “Our goal is to position ourselves for a bright future, so we’ll be as creative as we can.”

“It think this is going to be a challenge, a serious challenge, there’s no question about that,” said Cross. “But I also think the people of this university, the people I’ve come to know, love and respect, are committed to making this an even better institution. Trying to find a way to do it, to get through these challenges, it what’s in front of us right now.”

East Coast snow slows Wisconsin air travel

The big snowstorm out East is slowing travel in Wisconsin. Milwaukee’s Mitchell International Airport listing twenty canceled departures and arrivals from 11:10 this morning through tonight – most were to-and-from New York, Newark, and Boston – where as of mid-morning there was around one-and-a-half feet of snow.

Western Wisconsin air travelers were affected by some of the 47 cancellations and flight delays at the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Airport. No matter where they’re going – or trying to go – travelers are encoraged to check with the airlines before heading to the airport.

Governor Scott Walker’s UW plan: big cuts and greater autonomy

Bascom Hall, UW-Madison campus (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Bascom Hall, University of Wisconsin-Madison campus (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

The University of Wisconsin system would have greater flexibility over its own resources, under terms of a proposal to be contained in Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s next budget. In exchange, the UW would have its state funding slashed by 13 percent — or some $300 million — over the next two years. Walker said the proposal would mean that Wisconsin taxpayers will realize $150 million in savings annually.

“Reforming the partnership between the state and the UW System will save money and allow the UW System the flexibility to better serve those seeking higher education,” Walker’s statement said. “The people of Wisconsin deserve a government that is more effective, more efficient, and more accountable, and this plan protects the taxpayers and allows for a stronger UW System in the future.”

Under the plan, the UW System would receive a block grant from the state’s general purpose revenues, with independent authority over spending. Resident undergraduate tuition — which has been frozen for the past two years — would remain frozen for two additional years, after which UW institutions will have flexibility to adjust tuition based on demand.

“Long term it will be a benefit, not only to the university system as a whole, but it will be a benefit to students,” Walker said in Milwaukee Tuesday. “The tuition freeze for the next two years will remain intact, and going forward we think we’re going to have a great system.”

UW System officials released statements as they reacted to the plan. System President Ray Cross said they had been prepared for significant budget cuts. “Make no mistake, the proposed cuts are substantial, and they will impact every one of our institutions,” Cross said. “The people of this university, the people I’ve come to know, love and respect, are committed to making this an even better institution.”

Cross pointed out that the sort of flexibility offered by the Governor’s proposal is something that the system has long wanted. He said the flexibility would apply to procurement, human resources and some building projects.

“These flexibilities will allow us to manage pricing in a way that reflects the market and actual costs,” Cross said. “The flexibilities also ensure our continued commitment to affordability, accessibility and quality educational experiences for our students and Wisconsin families. ”

“The new public authority status proposed by the Governor for the UW System maintains the strong relationship between this outstanding public university and the people of this state,” said UW Board of Regents President Michael Falbo. “Under this new relationship, we will continue to be accountable to the people of Wisconsin.”

Senator Steve Nass (R-Whitewater), the vice-chair of the Senate Committee on Universities and Technical Colleges and a long-time UW critic, said the proposed plan would mean that Wisconsin families will face “tuition increase perils.”

“The Governor’s proposal on the UW System would leave tuition-paying middle class families absolutely defenseless from potentially massive spikes in tuition and fees starting in 2017,” said Nass. “I don’t trust the unelected Board of Regents to prioritize the plight of middle class families.”

Cowles: teacher licensing doesn’t belong in budget

Governor Scott Walker is getting some push-back from a member of his own party – over a plan to create a new teachers license. State Senator Rob Cowles says the idea of creating a new teachers licensing program for people with “real world” experience does not belong in the budget.

“If you plunk something like this in the state budget, it’s going to get short shrift,” said Cowles. “Now, is it the right thing to do? I don’t know. But that’s a policy decision that deserves to have public hearings, to make sure we’re doing the right thing.”

Cowles said it’s going to be hard enough to deal with the projected two-point-two billion dollar deficit without having to consider policy items. “Stick to the finances. We have enough trouble in this budget with finances. There’s a signficant shortfall.”

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau reported on Friday that the state has a $283 million deficit in the current fiscal year, in addition to a roughly $2.2 billion deficit the state is facing in the next budget biennium, based on current agency requests.

The governor unveiled the teacher licensing proposal, along with some other budget initiatives, last week. He’ll propose his full budget next week.

“These are the kinds of things that should not be in the state budget,” said Cowles. “They should go to the respective committees in the Assembly and the Senate, and we should have a chance to think about them.”

Wisconsin Democrats call for budget repair bill

Sen. Jennifer Shilling

Sen. Jennifer Shilling

Wisconsin Democrats on Monday called out the governor on the budget shortfall, on the heels of Scott Walker’s first significant foray into the Iowa presidential run-up. “While he is out there interviewing for his next job, it is really important that we focus here at home,” Senator Jennifer Shilling said. The La Crosse Democrat said a projected shortfall in the current budget year is more than enough to trigger a budget repair bill.

“Clearly the trigger has been met with this $283 million deficit, and I think that we need to act on this rather than saying this is going to fix itself. It clearly is not going to fix itself.”

The numbers, released Friday by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, are more than double the $132 million shortfall which Walker’s administration projected in November. That’s in addition to a roughly $2.2 billion deficit the state is facing in the next budget biennium, based on current agency requests. The news came just prior to Walker’s high-profile appearance at Saturday’s Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines.

The state has had deficits in the past, including under former Democratic Governor Jim Doyle. “It has nothing to do with the last budget deficit coming under Jim Doyle,” state Democratic party chair Mike Tate responded, when asked about Democratic responses to that. “The last budget deficit came when virtually every other state in the country had a budget deficit, due to the massive cratering of the economy. This is the budget deficit that Scott Walker made.”

Walker for his part has already said he won’t be issuing a budget repair bill. Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said in a statement on Friday that “Wisconsin will finish the biennium with a balanced budget.” The state constitution requires a balanced budget, meaning the deficit will have to be eliminated by the end of June.