Will the Legislature Slash the UW Budget Even More Than Walker After Discovery of Slush Funds?

MacIver News Service | May 23, 2013

[Madison, Wisc…] The Joint Committee on Finance will debate funding for the UW System on Thursday for the first time since more than $1 billion in cash reserves was found in the university system’s bank accounts.

Of the $1 billion in cash reserves, $648 million was considered to be surplus by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. The MacIver News Service previously reported on Governor Scott Walker’s revised budget for the UW System.

The Governor’s new budget proposal would freeze tuition at all UW System schools for the next two years, and reduce funding by $94 million from his original budget proposal. Walker also asks that the UW System use funds from the block grant program to pay for several economic development initiatives.

Walker proposes the UW System provide funds for a $20 million incentive grant program, $3.75 million for the UW-Madison Carbone Cancer Center, $3 million for the Wisconsin Academy of Rural Medicine program, and $1.95 million for the UW Flexible Degree program.

The new plan also reinstates a funding lapse that the UW System was exempt from in the previous budget. This would reduce funding for the system by $66 million over the next 2 years.

Even with these cuts in place, the UW System’s cash reserves would only be reduced to $900 million in June 2015.

The UW System is expected to be a hotly debated topic at JFC after so many legislators expressed outrage at the discovery of the $648 million surplus. Lawmakers seemed particularly frustrated by the fact that tuition has increased 5.5 percent the last four years even though there was a $414 million surplus in that account.

While lawmakers seem united on freezing tuition for the next two years, some Republicans in the legislature view the administration’s proposal as not going far enough. Rep. Stephen Nass (R-Whitewater) has called for a four-year tuition freeze and the firing of UW System President Kevin Reilly.

Representative Nass has also asked for a continued prohibition on the Board of Regents approving any new differential tuition plans requested by individual universities because it could be a backdoor way for universities to raise tuition in defiance of the tuition freeze.

However, some legislators may still want to increase funding to the UW System.

Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine) recently attempted to move $3 million in General Purpose Revenue over to the UW System. His motion failed.

Will JFC Republicans vote for even greater cuts to the UW System? Will Democrats join their GOP colleagues to reduce funding, or will they fight more spending?

The MacIver News Service will provide updates to this article as they are available and will provide real time updates on Twitter.

See the update on the UW System’s budget here.