The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee on Tuesday approved a revised policy for dealing with budget surpluses within the University of Wisconsin System. The change requires UW campuses to report to the Board of Regents anytime their surpluses climb above 12 percent, while also reducing the minimum cash reserves campuses must have from 10 percent of their budget to zero.
JFC co-chair Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) says the effort is aimed at giving the Legislature stronger management tools, “so then we can have the accountability and transparency that we desire” with UW System finances.
The policy change follows a year of intense criticism for the UW System, after it was found campuses were sitting on nearly a billion dollars in reserve funding despite several years of tuition increases. The discovery prompted a two year tuition freeze and budget cuts. Governor Scott Walker has said he would like to extend the freeze for another two years, if he’s reelected.
The changes passed on a 15-0 vote, although Democratic state Representative Cory Mason (D-Racine) voiced concerns that they could be used as a reason to under-fund the U-W in future budgets. Mason says he doesn’t “want it to be used as an excuse not to adequately fund higher education in Wisconsin.”