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Student Senate members lobby in Madison for UW System

February 24, 2019

On January 15-17, two members of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls Student Government Association had the opportunity to travel to Madison, Wisconsin to lobby for the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents. The two members of Student Senate who traveled to Madison were SGA President Rosie Pechous, and Oversight and Rules Director Evan Pankow.

“I’ve never actually lobbied before, and neither has Evan,” said Pechous. “He expressed interest in trying to lobby, and I decided that since it is the budget season, it would be a perfect time to try it out.”

“It was great meeting with senators and having honest conversations about the needs of our schools and students,” said Pankow. “Representing students and this school was a fulfilling task of course, but developing skills and gaining experience in work that means something to me is what made this trip memorable.”

Rosie Pechous and Evan Pankow stand in the Wisconsin Capitol Building rotunda. (Photo courtesy of Rosie Pechous)
Rosie Pechous and Evan Pankow stand in the Wisconsin Capitol Building rotunda.
(Photo courtesy of Rosie Pechous)

The main objective of Pehcous’ and Pankow’s lobbying efforts were to talk with Wisconsin State legislatures about the UW System budget proposed by the system’s regents. The UW System regents first approved of the proposed budget for the biennial 2019-2021 fiscal years on August 23, 2018.

Since then, the UW System regents, along with students, faculty, and staff from across the UW System have been in Madison lobbying the proposed budget to member of the State legislature and newly elected Governor of Wisconsin, Tony Evers.

Even though the proposed budget was approved by the UW System regents last August, the budget will likely see some changes before it is put into effect on July 1, 2019.

Currently, Governor Evers has the chance to change the biennial budget before he proposes his up to date version of the budget to the state’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC). Once the budget is moved onto the JFC, they will be working on the budget, sending it to the state assembly for approval, then the state senate, and finally, the final version of the budget would be sent back to Evers for it’s final stamp of approval.

Pechous talked about the process of preparing for lobbying that her and Pankow went through before they traveled to Madison in mid-January, “We set dates that both worked for us, then sat down with Chancellor Van Galen and Beth Schommer (executive assistant to the chancellor) to ask a few questions about what the budget entails. We as students wanted to get the important points from the budget that were specific to students. After we met with them, Evan and I sat down and called a number of Senators and Assembly members in Wisconsin and set up back-to-back meetings.”

UW-River Falls does have a significant funding request in the 2019-2021 fiscal budget as the budget would allow for the university to start construction for the newly planned Science and Technology Innovation Center on campus. The funds proposed for the building in the budget would help to ensure the building’s projected time of construction finished by 2024.

Another part of the budget would fund the structure of an individual students innovation. This would include getting more internships with local partners on more UW campuses to give students a better chance of being hired for an internship in or related to their major and/or minor.

Pechous elaborated more on important aspects of the budget saying, “A part of the budget that would be important to students is the proposed 3 percent increase for teacher compensation. Wisconsin professors are underpaid about 18-20 percent in comparison to other states, (Minnesota). To maintain quality education in the state of Wisconsin, the budget proposed a 3 percent increase for the first year and 3 percent increase for the second year for professors.”

Pankow included that there are several reasons for students within the UW System to understand what the budget is all about, “This budget is all about not just maintaining but also creating quality education with state support. The UW school system is prized with prestige and this budget assures that for years to come,” Pankow continued. “This affects each student not just at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls but also each student across the UW System as this budget is for the UW System as a whole.”  

Pechous talked about what she appreciated about her experience lobbying, “I really enjoyed spending time with Director Pankow and watching us both discover ways to speak to officials in a professional manner. There was a lot of personal growth and development on this trip, and that is always fun to watch from a leadership position. We walked away with the trip truly satisfied. You never know until you try. We did our best, got our voices out there, and walked away happy.”

The UW system budget will be going through multiple revisions between now and July 1 through the Wisconsin Joint Finance Committee. For more information regarding the progress of the UW System biennial budget, go to https://www.wisconsin.edu/budget-planning/annual-and-biennial-budgets/.