The Wisconsin Joint finance committee met Tuesday March, 3, with UW-System President Ray Cross to discuss the proposed implementation of a Public Authority, and the $300 million dollar cut within the governor’s proposed budget.
During the hearing, President Cross said the amount of savings that may be generated through the installation of a public authority is roughly $15 to $20 million dollars.
According to Cross, the UW-System is excited about the prospect of more flexibility and “agility” for the UW-System included in the Governor’s budget proposal, noting that Wisconsin’s university system is among the top four most regulated systems in the country. However, he also mentioned that the governor’s budget includes an “immediate and significant cut” in the form of $300 million.
“Savings from these reforms won’t be instantaneous.” said Cross.
During the hearing, Cross read a prepared testimony and voiced three requests he had for the Joint Finance Committee. The requests included that they approve the UW-System Authority and the dedicated and stable funding stream, as well as reduce the budget cut proposed by the governor.
Senator Luther Olsen expressed his concern that the public authority would be asking the state to give up its own authority which they use to check and balance the current system.
Cross responded, saying that providing the system with more flexibility will not dissolve the systems accountability to the state and its taxpayers. Cross noted that the system will continue to provide the state with a series of accountability reports. Cross alluded to the fact that he believes lawmakers already don’t read the accountability reports.
Cross maintained that UW-System faculty and employees will retain eligibility for state health and retirement benefits.
At one point, a group of protesters marched through the room shouting “No Cuts! No Deal!”. The protesters were then escorted out by capitol police.
Members of the Joint Finance Committee questioned Cross about the availability of the UW-System reserves to help deal with the blow of the proposed $300 million budget cut.
Cross made clear that all possible options were being exhausted, and that not all campuses will be able to use available reserves to mitigate cuts to their budget. According to Cross, the available funds reside differently among campuses, and only half of the campuses in the system will be able to tap the reserves in order to bridge the gaps in their budget.
Senator Jon Erpenbach voiced his concern about the impact an extension of the current tuition freeze may have on the quality of Wisconsin Universities.
Cross said that if the tuition freeze continues, the number of programs and services will be diminished. He asserted that it is “inappropriate to continue this tuition cap.”
Erpenbach expressed his growing concern that, by reducing the amount of programs available to students, the system may effectively extend the amount of time it takes a student to graduate — a prospect that he believes will have negative effects on growing levels of student debt.
According to Cross, the UW-System currently puts in $30 billion dollars to the state economy.