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Proposed budget may cut funding for UW System

September 20, 2007

UW-River Falls could face drastic cuts in staff and services as a result of the state finance bill currently being debated in Madison.

Every two years the state Legislature and the governor come to the table to determine how to spend state dollars. Everything from health care to college funding is included in the state's budget, according to the UW System web site. This year there is a large divide among legislators on what to do with the funds.

Wisconsin does not have a law that sets a deadline for the new budget and the previous fiscal year budget ended on June 30, according to Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance Mary Halada.

This year, the Conference Committee, which finalizes the budget, is split evenly between the two parties, with four representatives each. Their task is to negotiate a budget based on the Democrat led state Senate budget proposal and the Republican led state Assembly budget proposal.

The Governor and the state Senate both proposed budgets that would increase funds to the UW System, including allocating new money for growth initiatives that are being set up to bring new students to the UW System, according to the UW System Web site. Their budgets also allocate funding for the Wisconsin Higher Education Grant program, a financial aid program for low-income students.

The State Assembly proposed a very different budget. The Assembly proposal slashes the UW System budget by $119 million, according to the UW System budget Web Site. This would cut the UWRF operating budget by $2.8 million. The University would struggle to make up the loss.

"We would have to cut services, reduce the number of classes in certain areas, and certainly have to reduce our part time employees," UWRF Chancellor Don Betz said.

The Assembly budget includes no increase to the Wisconsin Higher Education Grant, which would put 200 students at financial risk, according to a press release from the chancellor's office.

The plan does allocate money for the UW Systems growth plan initiatives, but it is not enough to offset the cuts to the operational budget.

"If you give me no money, I'm still going to have to pay for old bills," Halada said.

The Conference Committee is tasked with compromising and coming up with a budget that both sides can agree on, Halada said.

The split in views is causing this process to be delayed.

"Both sides are standing firm on their position," Halada said. "Very little progress is being made."

With such a large divide, even a compromise could mean cuts to the UW System budget. UWRF has previously absorbed $3.7 million in cuts over the last six years, according to a press release from the chancellor's office.

The proposed budget would mean more drastic cuts across campus.

"The gap is so great between what the Assembly proposed and what the Governor and the Joint Finance Committee proposed, that if in the compromise, they strive toward a middle of the figure it would still be a drastic cut," Betz said.

The Assembly budget also proposes a tuition cap of four percent, according to the State Budget Web site.

The annual budget is based on a 5.5 percent increase for the 2007-08 fiscal year, according to a UW System press release.

The restriction of the tuition cap would create an additional nine million dollar deficit.

"The percent that has been paid by the state has been losing ground," Halada said. "Students have been paying more of their bill than they ever have historically."

Very little progress is being made, and it could be another month or more before a budget is decided on, Betz said.

The Conference Committee still needs to work on a compromise before sending it back to the Assembly, Senate, and governor for approval.

Student Senate President Derek Brandt remains hopeful.

"What I really want to see is a compromise," Brandt said. In the meantime, Betz recommends writing to your state representatives and encouraging them to continue to fund higher education.

"Students need to contact their legislator or their senator" Betz said. "What moves these people is when they hear from constituents."