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State budget plan means cuts for UW System schools

March 5, 2009

The state of Wisconsin’s new budget for the period of 2009-11 has been released. It is expected to shield students from low-income families from tuition increases, and cause nearly $150 million in cuts in the UW System. UW-River Falls may lose $4 million, some of it permanently, over the next two years.

The plan, released Feb. 17 by Gov. Jim Doyle, included funding cuts for many state departments and programs. One of the few areas receiving any kind of spending increase is education.

“I don’t believe that the people of Wisconsin elected me to watch the University of Wisconsin turn into a second-rate institution,” Doyle said in the summary of the budget on his Web site. “Our universities and our schools have always been the engines that drive Wisconsin. My budget sees education as our most important function—education, again, is the one primary area that is receiving any increases.”

Doyle went on to say that the UW System would remain accessible and open to an increasing number of students, and that his new financial aid measure would protect college students with a family income of less than $60,000 a year from any tuition increases. Doyle added that while others would see increases, they would not be severe.

“For those earning more, tuition increases will be modest and in line with what we have seen in recent years,” Doyle said.

The new budget was passed without the extensive delays of the 2007-09 plan, which ended in a freeze—meaning that all the state programs would assume the same amount of funding they had from 2005-07. This plan left the state with a revenue shortfall of $5.7 billion.

As for the UW System, it is facing two significant budget cuts that add up to nearly $150 million, Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance Lisa Wheeler said. One of the cuts is temporary; the System will give a certain amount of money back to the state in 2009-10 and receive it again in their next budget. This is also known as a “lapse.” The second cut, spread over 2009-11, will be permanent—also known as a “base cut.”

System-wide, the lapse is predicted to be $100 million and the base cut around $49 million, Wheeler said. She anticipated that since UWRF has a 2.8 percent stake in the whole UW System’s budget, it will also take 2.8 percent of each cut. This means the University would have a lapse of about $2.8 million and a base cut of $1.37 million—over $4 million total, although a fall tuition increase is expected to make up for some of it. The amount of the increase will not be revealed until June.

Wheeler added that while the governor is increasing education spending, much of that money is going to “cost to continue” programs. In other words, the education system’s resources are costing more, and Doyle is increasing spending to maintain the programs that are already in place.

UWRF’s next biennial budget is yet to be decided, according to accounting professor Dawn Hukai. All of the University’s departments are going through a process of prioritization. The department deans will rank the University’s programs to determine which ones get more money, less or the same amount. After passing through Advanced Priority & Placement and the Faculty Senate, the plan will go back to the deans and the upper administration for an official decision.

The University is doing everything it can to maintain class availability and the quality of education despite a weakening economy, and public education has been adjusting to decreasing state support for the last few decades, Wheeler said. The UW System has been no exception.

“Twenty years ago, [Wisconsin] was paying 47 percent of your education [costs]. Now they’re paying 32 percent,” Wheeler said. “It’s sort of ironic that we’re living in a society where so many more jobs require a college degree…and the state is not funding education to the level it has been.”