Regents sign off on UW System’s request to seek $108M more in state aid

Photo by Michelle Stocker, The Capital Times

The Board of Regents has signed off on the UW System asking for a $108 million boost in state aid for its next two-year operating budget and a $1.9 billion capital budget for large projects.

The $6.3 billion operating budget request includes a total ask of $888 million in general program revenue but doesn’t request any increases in tuition.

Tony Evers, the state schools superintendent and Dem guv nominee, was the only regent to vote against the operating budget at yesterday’s meeting. He argued it should include $70 million more in state aid. That includes $40 million in lost tuition revenue over the next two years if regents allowed it to increase with inflation each year and $30 million to increase employee pay by 2.5 percent.

“If we actually believe we want to have a good compensation plan, if we actually believe we want to fully fund that freeze, we’ve got to do it now,” Evers told reporters after the meeting.

UW President Ray Cross announced yesterday he will ask regents in December to sign off on a request for the state — through its employee compensation fund — to pay 100 percent of compensation costs. The UW System currently is responsible for covering 30 percent of such costs. Total compensation costs for the 2019-21 budget cycle are expected to be $103 million.

But Evers said the funding for compensation should go in the budget now.

“I think it’s a fool’s errand to wait until December. The die is cast,” he said.

Most of the $108 million increase System officials are calling for comes in the form of “performance-based” or “outcomes-based” funding championed by Gov. Scott Walker and GOP lawmakers.

Specifically, regents gave the green light for the System to ask the state for an additional $82.5 million over two-years in performance-based funding and $25 million for “capacity building initiatives,” which provides funding for specific campus programs.

The request for additional funding comes even after Walker instructed state agencies to prepare budget requests with the expectation of no funding growth and a 5-percent reduction.

Cross underscored the importance of investing in higher education today when rolling out the ask for increased funding.

“At a time when objective analysis clearly shows that a college education is more valuable and more necessary than ever, there should be no doubt or question about the need to invest in higher education,” he said.

“Performance” or “outcomes-based” funding awards campuses based on how well they meet certain metrics. The state Legislature previously allocated $26.25 million for ongoing performance-based funding that will first be distributed this fall. Distribution to campuses will be based on performance in 2018 compared to an average of their performance in 2015-17.

The System is now requesting that number be increased to $27 million next year and $55 million ongoing beginning in the 2020-21 school year.

Regent Bryan Steil, a Republican running for the open 1st CD, was the only one to vote against the $1.96 billion capital budget.

Steil balked at the budget’s “big price tag” and large number of projects.

“We don’t do quite the full justice we could to identify the academic projects that are most significant to our priorities. As I review the capital budget, I feel it’s too large and not focused enough,” he said.

The $1.96 billion ask calls for $682 million in general fund supported borrowing for nearly two dozen renovation and new building projects across System campuses. It’s one of the highest asks for taxpayer-funded projects in recent years.

It also asks for $447 million in GPR to be approved in the 2019-21 budget cycle to be made available in the next budget cycle.

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