Lawmakers reject UW tuition cut, freeze to continue

Plan would extend tuition freeze 2 more years

Lawmakers reject UW tuition cut,...

MADISON, Wis. - The Republican-controlled Legislature's budget committee has rejected Gov. Scott Walker's call to cut University of Wisconsin tuition by 5 percent.

The Joint Finance Committee voted 12-4 on party lines to instead continue a tuition freeze for two more years. It's been in place for four years.

The issue had been contentious, with the committee delaying a vote on the issue from a Tuesday session.
The plan as written by Republican leaders would not offer funding to backfill the freeze.  Walker’s plan would have given the UW $35 million in funding to offset losses from tuition.

The legislature’s plan would continue the idea of performance-based funding, but allow the Board of Regents to set metrics related to student access, graduation rates, contributions to the workforce and “operational efficiency,” and offer less funding in exchange for meeting those metrics. Walker’s plan would have had the budget define those metrics.

Overall, the system is set to lose about $7 million compared to the governor’s proposal.

"This investment today will be good, will be well worth it in addressing in meeting our workforce needs," said Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls.

Democrats had proposed $545 million in new funding for the system, saying that prior cuts should be backfilled.

"Despite more money in our budget, there have been bigger priorities than the UW system," said Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oskosh. "We're here today to say that's been wrong, that's been damaging, and we can restore that money with existing resources in this budget to put us on a future path to prosperity." 

UW System President Ray Cross Thursday thanked lawmakers for their work.

"While we have concerns with some of the provisions, the vast majority of our requests were approved, and we look forward to working with the legislature on remaining issues," Cross said.

The motion as proposed by Republicans Thursday would also make a number of other changes, including prohibiting the regents from only considering those with tenure or “terminal degrees” for positions as chancellors at UW schools or as UW System president.

The measure also lays out more details of the proposed Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership, which was announced earlier this week.  The center would be given $1.5 million annually from state funds for its operation, but specifics about the leadership of the center show that nearly all members of a public governing board would be political appointees.

The center would also be required to spend not less than $500,000 a year on speaking engagements sponsored at the center at campuses other than UW-Madison.

Republican finance committee members are also proposing an outside audit of the UW System.  They passed that in the last state budget, but the measure was vetoed by Walker. He said the Legislative Audit Bureau could maintain “effective oversight” of the system.

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