Budget battle continues in light of UW fund surplus

Budget committee moves closer to final passage
Budget battle continues in light of UW fund surplus

Some state lawmakers are saying the UW System shouldn’t get the increases planned in the state budget as the fallout continues from a surplus that’s shocked the legislature.

Gov. Scott Walker had allocated an additional $181 million to the system that could now be in jeopardy.

Lawmakers on the Joint Finance Committee begin voting Thursday on what to spend money on in the state budget. Both Democrats and Republicans have now called for an immediate tuition freeze across the system, but some lawmakers are saying a $650 million surplus means the UW maybe doesn’t need as much money as it was going to get.

“We have a responsibility to make sure on two different fronts that kids who paid tuition and their parents are taken care of and that there are some dollars used in that area,? Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said. ?But then [we have a responsibility to] the taxpayers, who have been footing the bill for a good portion of the UW System.”

Fitzgerald said he would like to see the UW send some taxpayer funds back to the state.

The governor has said much of that money was intended for economic development programs and doesn’t want to cut funding. Some Democrats agree.

“We need to stand with parents who are struggling to pay tuition and students struggling to pay tuition,? said Rep. Jon Richards, R-Milwaukee. ?But we also need to make sure we’re keeping the quality high in the UW System.”

Democrats argued that more money should be put into financial aid to help offset tuition increases.

The decision may come down to the finance committee. The co-chairs said Thursday it was too early to say what they would do.

“Remember the $181 million would be considered one-time money,” said Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette. “We’re not looking to grab the students? tuition money or the cash there, but we will look at whether their budget needs to be justified.”

In a statement on the UW Madison website Thursday, Interim Chancellor David Ward called the legislative reaction ?understandable? but defended the fund balance.

?Carrying positive account balances that ? help guard against fiscal uncertainty from year to year is an important component in our complex budgeting process at UW-Madison,? Ward said. ?We believe we are being prudent stewards of resources.?

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have generally agreed that an immediate two-year tuition freeze is warranted. A spokesman for the governor said he will release his updated version of the UW budget in a week to 10 days.

For video on this story, visit the video section