UW officials warn of layoffs following budget plan
University of Wisconsin officials are warning of layoffs and cuts to student services following Gov. Scott Walker’s announcement of planned budget cuts to the UW System.
Walker is proposing a $300 million cut over two years to the state’s higher education system, which amounts to a 13 percent cut in their current funding. State funding makes up about 20 percent of the UW System budget.
The governor is also proposing the system become a public authority, giving the 13 four-year campuses and 13 two-year colleges more flexibility over a wide array of issues that are currently mandated by state law.
When asked about the plan Tuesday, Walker compared the plan to his measures in 2011 to cut public education and then remove collective bargaining measures as part of Act 10.
“I think much like we say after Act 10 for those who saw that initially as a budget reduction, it actually ended up providing great benefit not only to the taxpayers of the state, but ultimately to the people who relied on local government, as well as the state and the same will be true at the UW,” Walker said Tuesday.
UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said the public authority won’t immediately mitigate what would be a 15 percent budget cut to her campus.
“Every one of my schools and colleges is going to feel this, and there’s going to be layoffs in every one of them,” Blank said. “I’m trying to think very closely about how I can spread this outside of the state dollars, which are concentrated all in education, because I can’t take this entirely out of my educational programs.”
Blank said some of the flexibilities will help UW construct buildings cheaper and make decisions on pay and procurement. But she said the state also won’t backstop any future change in energy or health care costs.
“We are a semi-privatized institution under this new proposal because the state doesn’t fill any budget gaps for us,” Blank said.
UW System President Ray Cross said he’s supportive of the public-authority model, but said a tuition freeze and a budget cut together are problematic.
“We hope the legislature will have a conversation with us, work with us and with the governor’s office to see if it’s possible to reduce this cut to us,” Cross said Tuesday.
Walker is proposing the tuition freeze last through 2017, and then the UW System would have the power to set its own tuition rates.
Blank said she will go to the Board of Regents to ask for increases in out-of-state tuition if this plan passes.
“I just couldn’t handle this without the ability to do some tuition increases on at least that set of students,” Blank said. Out-of-state students make up about 25 percent of the student body at UW-Madison.
Several prominent Republicans also had questions about Walker’s plan.
Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, has been one of the UW System’s harshest critics. Tuesday he blasted the governor for giving the system more control.
“My big concern is that when the tuition freeze goes off the Board of Regents, a board that is not elected that meets once a month, will be in freewheel to raise tuition to what they believe they need to continue on,” Nass said.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Burlington, said he has concerns about a cut of this magnitude. In a statement Tuesday, Vos said “a significant amount of flexibility may be needed to manage such a large budget cut.”
He said the Legislature will keep an open mind as lawmakers debate the plan.
Lawmakers and officials will hear more about the plan when the governor presents his budget Feb. 3rd.
UW-Whitewater’s Faculty Senate Chair, Dr. David Munro, has seen budget cuts before during his 20 years of experience.
“Discouragement from several different levels. It’s sort of a continuation of what has happened for over a decade,” Munro said.
As he looks toward the next two years possibly filled with cuts, he is not only concerned with the impacts to faculty but with impacts on students.
“The UW System has done a lot over the years during budget cuts to really minimize the impact to the students, the problem is you can’t hide it forever. You’ve gotten to the point where it’s going to hurt,” Munro said.
Despite a possible tuition freeze, Munro’s concerned students would be impacted with limited class options, on-campus jobs and a larger student-to-teacher ratio. Still with a lot of questions to be answered, Munro believes the largest impacts from budget cuts may not be seen right away.
“Ultimately, it’s how the student does when they leave here and get a job. How well do they do? How well have they been trained? Unfortunately, that’s hard to get an understanding of and measure and see if there has been a quality slip until it’s too late,” Munro said.