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UWRF works to overcome budget lapse challenges

November 4, 2011

UW-River Falls Chancellor Dean Van Galen is looking at ways to cut spending after the University was ordered Oct. 14 to return nearly $1.8 million of taxpayer money over the next two years back to the Wisconsin government as part of a plan to balance the state budget. UWRF administrators said the order unfairly targets the UW-System.

The order is the result of the 2011-2013 biennial Wisconsin budget, which was balanced on the assumption that state agencies would return $174.3 million of unused funds by the end of the 2013 fiscal year. The Wisconsin Department of Administration, or DOA, ordered that nearly $65.8 million of the returned funds must come from the UW-System. UWRF is responsible for $1.8 million of that sum.

The UW-System traditionally accounts for around 7 percent of the state’s revenue allocation, but is being ordered to shoulder 38 percent of the required cut, according to a UWSystem press release.

“It is not a surprise that the state of Wisconsin will distribute a budget reduction ‘lapse’ to state agencies, and that the UW-System must contribute to the reduction,” wrote Van Galen in a statement. “What is surprising and troubling is the disproportionate size of the cut that is being proposed for the UW-System.”

Word of the order came in the form of a memo from DOA Secretary Mike Huebsch. “These lapses will present operational challenges and opportunities to state agencies,” wrote Huebsch. “The Governor remains committed to putting Wisconsin’s state government on a stable fiscal footing while ensuring that it functions as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

The DOA works with the governor to “develop and implement the state budget,” according to its website.

The DOA memo announcing the distribution of the cuts among state agencies provided no explanation as to how the distribution percentages were calculated. It did however indicate that certain agencies were given exemptions for having “high-priority” programs.

These include medical assistance, child welfare and school aid.

“The memo that came from the DOA said they were holding harmless what they called ‘high-priority’ areas. What that says is we’re not included as a high-priority,” said Blake Fry, the UWRF special assistant to the chancellor. “So one can take that for what they’d like it to mean.”

UW administrators argued the budget lapse share placed on the UW-System would ultimately damage the economy.

“As a state, we must realize that the work of the public universities is critical to solving the short- and long-term economic challenges that we face, and to sustaining the high quality of life that Wisconsin has enjoyed for many years,” wrote Van Galen in response to the DOA memo.

“We do not know how we can take these cuts without negatively affecting the education of our students and the expectations of their families for a quality experience,” stated a UW-System press release. “These disproportionately large cuts will hurt every UW institution’s ability to spur regional economic growth and to help all of Wisconsin emerge from a persistent economic recession.”

Gov. Scott Walker released no comment on the distribution decisions made by the DOA. Student and Faculty Senate at UWRF both approved resolutions denouncing the DOA distribution decision.

The money required from the UW-System will be divided among the various UW campuses according to a formula that ranks the schools by how much money they take from the UW-System budget, Fry said.

UW-Madison will contribute the largest share of the cut with $25.8 million over the next two years, while the UW-System administration will contribute the least with $418,640, according to the UW-System press release.

Van Galen and his cabinet will be meeting over the coming days to decide how UWRF will come up with its share of the cut, Fry said.

“A wide range of possibilities are being looked at,” Fry said. “But there’s one thing we know for sure with this lapse is that there will be no reductions in permanent staff positions.”

The UW-System will need to submit a plan outlining proposed cuts for the current 2011- 2012 fiscal year to the DOA by Nov. 7. United Falcons of UWRF, the faculty and academic staff union at UWRF, will host an open forum to discuss the effect of budget cuts 4 p.m. on Nov. 9, in room 321 of the University Center.