In February, Gov. Scott Walker presented his proposed 2015-2016 biennial state budget. In March, the Wisconsin Legislature held four public hearings on the budget proposals. By mid-April, members of the Joint Committee on Finance began to work on amending and adopting changes to the proposal. The process is expected to continue through the end of May.
While there is a lot to think through, one of the most important proposals to consider in Walker's two-year spending plan is his proposal to cut state funding to the University of Wisconsin-System by $300 million. The proposed cuts amount to 13% of the UW-System's state aid.
What would the cuts look like at some of Wisconsin's 13 four-year campuses?
*UW-Madison Chancellor Rebbeca Blank said if the budget is adopted with Walker's proposed cuts, the university could face a $90 million-plus budget gap. To illustrate how large that cut would be, Blank said she could cut all the funding to UW-Madison's five smallest schools -- veterinary medicine, business, law, nursing and pharmacy -- and she would still have to make more cuts. Blank is not going to do that, but on April 17, she announced that 400 positions would be eliminated at UW-Madison.
Blank said she could make up some of the budget shortfall by increasing the number of out-of-state students allowed to enroll at UW-Madison. Currently out-of-state enrollment is capped at 27%. She is proposing raising it to 30%, which means fewer Wisconsin students would be admitted.
*In an attempt to prevent layoffs, UW-Oshkosh is offering eligible employees a one-time payment equal to 50% of their annual base salary. UW-Superior and UW-Green Bay have made similar offers.
*According to the chancellors, the proposed cuts to the UW-System could result in between 200 and 300 positions lost at UW-Milwaukee and as many as 50 to 90 positions lost at UW-Stout. UW-Stevens Point may have to eliminate 115 positions.
*UW-River Falls Chancellor Dean Van Galen says if the budget cuts stay at their current level, there's no way to avoid layoffs. He plans to minimize the impact to students by cutting administrative and support positions.
*The proposed budget cuts to the 13 two-year campuses across the state could be particularly brutal.
If proposed cuts are approved, UW-Fond du Lac stands to lose up to $240,000 in state funding, a financial blow that could result in a reduction in services to students, says UW-Fond du Lac Dean John Short.
"We would have to look at layoffs, changing programs and the possibility of offering fewer course selections resulting in larger class sizes," Short says.
Once the Republican controlled Joint Committee on Finance completes its work around the end of May, the budget then goes to the Legislature for consideration before going back to Walker for final approval. Walker is expected to sign the budget in late June, just before the new fiscal year begins in July. After that, the governor is expected to ramp up his campaign for president.
Momentum is building to reduce or eliminate the proposed budget cuts. A poll released April 16 by Marquette University, shows that 70% of Wisconsin voters oppose the proposed $300 million cut to the UW system. Depending on the state's revenue picture, a number of Republican leaders are saying they might reduce the proposed budget cuts to the UW-System by as much as half. But that is not a done deal. It is time to contact your state representative and state senator and let them know your concerns about Walker's plan.
Supporting higher education is not a Republican or Democratic issue. It is an extremely important issue for Wisconsin's future. Gov. Walker may be more interested in his own political ambitions than Wisconsin's right now, but legislators need to focus on this state and what's in the best interest of residents.