UW regents OK $95 million budget increase request

File photo.

OSHKOSH - 95 million taxpayer dollars. That's how much University of Wisconsin System leaders are asking for, from Governor Scott Walker.

The UW Board of Regents voted Thursday in Oshkosh to send that request to the governor.

But the system has faced recent criticism from the governor and legislators for its reserve funds, which are projected to total about one billion dollars. Much of the money came from unspent tuition dollars. Because of that legislators froze tuition in the last budget.

UW System President Ray Cross posed a question to the board of regents Thursday.

"How do we more tightly align some of the things we do with the needs of the state?" asked Cross.

His answer? Help bridge the skills gap and create jobs in Wisconsin.

But Cross told FOX 11 the UW System will need $95 million from the state's 2015-2017 budget to do that.

"A significant portion of this budget is all about creating new businesses, spawning those within the universities and growing existing businesses," Cross explained.

The money would be split four ways:

- $22.5 million would go toward grants for UW schools with business growth and entrepreneur programs.

- $15.4 million would be for programs like the Flex Option, which allows adults to earn college credit through work experience.

- $30 million for recruiting more students and faculty in high demand fields.

- $27 million dollars to keep up faculty benefits to help balance the tuition freeze.

Governor Walker told FOX 11 it's too early to know what he'll decide.

"Certainly the rest of it, every other state agency over the next few months will be coming in and we'll have to review that in light of the overall budget," he said.

One certainty though, Walker is still critical of the UW System's estimated billion dollar reserve fund.

"One thing I made clear in the past and I'll make clear in the future is that I want to continue to freeze UW tuition," said Walker.

Cross said he understands the budget is tight and there are a lot of agencies that need funding. But, he told FOX 11 this $95 million could help, not only the university, system, but the state.

"This is an investment in the future. This is an investment that we need to trigger growth," said Cross.

Cross also discussed the projected one billion dollar surplus today. He reiterated what he's said in the past, that most of the money is set aside for specific programs.
According to Cross about 20% is truly reserve.

For the full UW System 2015-17 biennial budget request click here.