MacIver News Service | February 9, 2015[Madison, Wisc…] More than 35,000 public employees would be removed from state government rolls if Gov. Scott Walker’s (R-Wisconsin) budget proposal stays intact through the legislative process.
Walker’s 2015-17 budget proposal, which was introduced last Tuesday, makes major changes to the operation of the state’s University of Wisconsin System. The second-term governor’s plan would split off the UW System into its own public entity.
By creating a separate authority for the UW System, it would no longer be under the direct management of the state.
According to Walker, UW System supporters have been asking for more autonomy for years, claiming it would help cut costs and better serve students. The governor’s plan also includes a $150 million funding cut in each year of his biennial budget in exchange for the greater autonomy.
The annual reduction is equivalent to a 2.5 percent cut in total public funding. Opponents of Walker’s reform have claimed aid is being cut by 13 percent, however that only takes into consideration general fund spending from the state.
The 13 percent figure ignores nearly $5 billion in funding the UW System receives in federal, segregated and program revenues.
At a Wednesday stop in Stevens Point, Walker called the plan an “Act 10 for the UW System” – referring to his 2011 collective bargaining reforms that have saved the state $3 billion to date.
“What I mean by that is that we actually give them reforms. For years, supporters of the UW System have said at campus after campus that if you got us out from under the thumb of the state government bureaucracy that they could do more to save money and put it back into the classroom to be more effective,” the governor said. “I believe our authority will do just that.”
The proposal would also extend a tuition freeze that was included in the last budget, keeping tuition at the same level for a total of four years.
UW System President Ray Cross hopes the final budget will include more state funding.
“This is a serious cut that will force each institution and campus within the UW System to make difficult decisions about its workforce and programming,” Cross said. “We are hopeful that we will be able to work with our partners in the legislature to mitigate and reduce this cut in the coming months.”
Many others in the state agree with Walker that funding should be cut, however.
During the 2013-15 budget process, legislators discovered the UW System had more than $600 million in surplus that was not clearly accounted for. This so-called “slush fund” led to the first two-year tuition freeze and eventually the UW System President at the time, Kevin Reilly, resigned.
Since then, the system has reduced reserves down to $175 million and has implemented policies to increase transparency.
Conservatives, including the governor, have also embraced the idea that professors should teach just one more class per semester to cut costs. According to a report from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, faculty taught two courses and had on average just 6.3 hours of direct contact with students per week in 2012.
And, UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank hinted in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal that number might get even lower.
According to WSJ, “[Blank] said that 15% of her professors last year received outside job offers, and as chancellor, she bids against those offers in part by cutting the course loads of researchers so they will stay.”
The legislature will take up Walker’s budget in the coming months and a final bill is expected to be signed by the governor in June.
A version of this article was first published on Sunday by The Daily Signal.