MADISON (AP) – University of Wisconsin System officials want Gov. Scott Walker to give them an additional $95 million in tax dollars in the next state budget to fund a new plan to create jobs, boost graduation numbers and deal with a tuition freeze.
The Board of Regents is scheduled to take up the plan and vote on whether to send it on to the governor during a meeting at UW-Oshkosh on Thursday. Regent President Michael Falbo didn’t immediately return a telephone message Wednesday morning.
It’s unclear what sort of reception the plan might get from the governor. The system’s relationship with Republican lawmakers disintegrated last year after word broke schools had been building massive reserves while raising tuition year after year. The GOP in response imposed a tuition freeze that Walker wants to extend into the 2015-17 budget. And Walker warned state agencies last month to expect no additional tax dollars in the budget.
New system President Ray Cross has been working diligently to rebuild bridges with GOP lawmakers, though. The proposal’s summary justifies the request by saying stakeholders ranging from legislators to business leaders want the system to help create jobs.
Cross said in a telephone interview that system officials have had multiple discussions with Walker’s office and Republican legislators in hopes of convincing them the extra money would help the economy but the administration hasn’t expressed any commitment yet.
“It’s very early in the budget process,” Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said in an email to The Associated Press. “We will review all budget requests as we receive them.”
Rep. Steve Nass, a Whitewater Republican who chairs the Assembly’s colleges committee and one of the system’s toughest critics, believes most of the proposal looks sensible, his spokesman, Mike Mikalsen, said.
“I don’t think it’s inappropriate to ask (for the money),” Mikalsen said. “This request overall is pretty reasonable.”
According to the proposal, the system needs the additional money for a new, multi-pronged project dubbed the Talent Development Initiative. The project calls for:
-Pumping another $22.5 million into grants for UW schools working on programs to help grow businesses and faculty and student entrepreneurs.
-Spending an additional $15.4 million to increase the number of students in the Course Options Program, which gives high school students a chance to earn college credit, by 50 percent; update a computer system that shows students how credits would transfer between UW schools and state technical colleges; and cover costs for the Flex Option program, which allows adult students to earn college credit by demonstrating real-life experience, as enrollment grows.
-Devoting $30 million in grants to UW institutions for programs that recruit more students and issue more degrees in fields where employee demand is high, recruit and retain faculty in high-demand fields, and increase student internships.
-Spending $27 million to help offset the effects of the tuition freeze on faculty compensation and benefits. The proposal notes schools have drawn down their reserves and some schools have seen enrollment declines.