Wis. lawmakers reject UW System independence

Wisconsin lawmakers are rejecting Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to give the University of Wisconsin System more independence from the state.

The proposal would have allowed the System to run as a public authority, which would have given it more flexibility when it comes to spending and setting tuition.

Local lawmakers Nancy VanderMeer and Lee Nerison said they are glad to see the proposal denied for now because state lawmakers need time to look over this idea.

University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Chancellor Joe Gow said now that the proposal is off the table it leaves a lot of things up in the air.

With full autonomy out of the question for the UW System, Gow has one big question.

“Are we still going to have a $300 million cut to the UW System?” he said.

Gow said that the understanding was the UW Sytem gets a $300 million cut in funding, but in return the System receives independence from the state. But with no independence he hopes lawmakers can find a way to reduce the cut.

“We have said all along that we could handle a cut about half the size, so about $150 million rather than $300 million,” Gow said.

Nerison said he is glad to see the proposal denied right now, because he feels there are too many questions that need to be answered.

“I think if we’re going to go with something like that I think we need to take it out and have a better look at it and more time to study it to make sure we get it right instead of doing it in the budget,” Nerison said.

Nerison and fellow assembly woman VanderMeer said they want to make sure certain programs at UW schools are going to be safe if the System gets autonomy.

“There are some programs that help support our veterans in the college and university process. I would like to make sure that we take a good look to make sure that we’re supporting our veterans as they go through higher education as well,” VanderMeer said.

Gow said for now all he can really do is cross his fingers and hope that the cut in funding somehow gets reduced.

“I don’t know whether there will be enough money in the state budget to make that happen, but we would certainly like to see that. That would project jobs, we’ve said we will lose 45 positions here at UW-La Crosse, that’s $1.5 million in the local economy. We don’t want to have to do that, so hopefully we will see a reduction in that big cut,” Gow said.

Gow said the UW System would like autonomy so that it has the ability to set tuition. He said tuition has gotten very political and that lawmakers use the idea of a tuition freeze as a way to get re-elected. But he said in terms of keeping up the quality of education, the UW System should be in charge of making that decision.

Wisconsin revenue numbers are expected any day now. That will determine whether there can be a reduction in cuts to the UW System.