Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to separate the University of Wisconsin System from state control and create a public authority will not be included in the proposed biennial budget, the Joint Finance Committee announced on Tuesday, May 5.
This is the second time in Walker’s gubernatorial tenure that a proposal of this nature has been shut down.
This independence of the authority was meant to help offset the proposed $300 million cut to the system by allowing it flexibility to find savings.
According to a report in the Wisconsin State Journal, Walker and other lawmakers will work to provide flexibilities without the authority, but he did not specify which flexibilities. If the Board of Regents had control of the system, Republican lawmakers were wary of tuition increases and “overly generous employee protections” like tenure and shared governance, the report indicated.
“This was certainly not a surprise,” said Greg Summers, provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.“There has been a lot of concern for months now and lots of people were worried about granting that much power to the system.”
With the short timeline of the budget proposal, Summers said legislators did not have a chance to sort through the details of the change. While the system would have had a more certain budget stream, there were unanswered questions in terms of hidden costs, he said.
“The cut would have been more like $350 million after the hidden costs involving municipalities, procurement and insurance,” Summers said. “We are hoping to avoid those given that this part of the proposal will not go forward.”
Chris Slattery, Student Government Association president, said there are benefits and costs with this rejection.
“Some of the benefits of that proposed autonomy are pushed to the wayside, like more efficient purchasing, but in this time of great change in the state, I think remaining as a state agency is ultimately the right decision,” Slattery said.
Tenure and shared governance are not written into the biennial budget as they had been in the past, so it is unclear if the Legislature will reinsert them given the rejection of the authority.
“This is a great concern to us,” Summers said. “We haven’t heard how this will be handled, but we are hoping all of Chapter 36 will remain.”
Slattery said in terms of representing student voice, it is easier to point to a statute than a business policy, which is what the authority would have created.
Focus has shifted to the proposed cuts. Walker and Republican legislators had believed the state would take in more tax revenue than anticipated during the next two years, which could have been used for the UW System, K-12 schools or transportation However, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau reported on Wednesday, May 6, that the initial estimates have not been adjusted.
“This is not good news that we received for UWSP or any other UW institution,” Summers said. “It leaves very few options.”
UW System President Ray Cross will host a campus-wide open forum on Friday, May 8, from 1:30 to 2:15 p.m. in the Alumni Room of the Dreyfus University Center.
“SGA will be updating him on our outreach efforts,” Slattery said. “It will give UWSP a chance to showcase what we’ve been doing as well as how we’re being affected. This way, when he meets with legislators, he’ll be able to speak about UWSP specifically.”
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