Members of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee have restored some of the cuts Governor Scott Walker proposed for the University of Wisconsin System in his budget plan. Although, the UW will still have to absorb funding reductions of $250 million over the next biennium.
The panel on Friday approved a budget provision that reduced the $300 million cut Walker proposed, while also approving new flexibilities for the system that Republicans said will help the UW deal with the remaining cuts.
The plan drew criticism from Democrats, who accused Republicans of defunding one of the state’s key economic engines. Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) said the GOP is “biting the hand that feeds us economically,” pointing to the many businesses that have been created out of the UW. The Middleton Democrat said the GOP plan is like “putting ourselves on the road to mediocre.”
JFC co-chair John Nygren said Republicans are still making a “sizable investment” in the UW, and noted that states across the country have had to make cuts to university systems. He also pointed out that, adjusted for inflation, previous budgets have made larger cuts to UW campuses.
Other provisions of the GOP plan include carrying on a tuition freeze for the next two years, eliminating tenure protections for UW faculty from state law, and allowing the UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee to create independent charter schools.
In a statement, UW System President Ray Cross thanks lawmakers for their work to reduce the cut and provide the System with more flexibilities. Cross said “The work of the committee illustrates a willingness to open a new dialogue and partnership between the legislature and the UW System. I am committed to working to build on this foundation to ensure a strong UW System for the future that continues our long tradition of serving students, communities and the state.”
Friday’s executive session was interrupted multiple times by protesters. Demonstrators repeatedly stood up to read a prepared statement in opposition to the cuts. Each time, they were quickly escorted from the room by Capitol Police officers.
The full Legislature and Governor Walker still have to sign off on the full budget. The Finance Committee is expected to wrap up its work on the plan next week.