After promising to maintain the UW System’s $181 million budget request last week, Gov. Scott Walker backed off that plan Thursday, proposing to redirect most of the money to other educational needs.
The governor said much of the proposed funding for UW schools could now go to public schools and toward a systemwide tuition freeze, according to the Associated Press.
Walker initially advocated for a two-year student tuition freeze, as did the bipartisan Legislature and students statewide after the Legislative Fiscal Bureau uncovered approximately $650 million in available System assets.
For further scrutiny, Joint Legislative Audit Committee’s co-chairs Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, and Rep. Samantha Kerkman, R-Randall, said in a statement last week the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau will carefully review UW System’s balances.
UW System Board of Regents President Brent Smith said officials will wait to make any judgments on potential fluctuations in the state’s proposed funding until Walker and the Legislature formalize their changes.
Smith and UW System spokesperson David Giroux also said these reserve funds represent only a quarter of the system’s spending, which is a rate lower than many other systems and universities nationwide.
However, Smith said the System’s reserves have risen by more than $200 million in the past two years due to repeated 5.5 percent tuition hikes.
“It’s been a big increase in the last two years,” he said. “There’s also been a misperception that this money is available to us – that we’re sitting on all this money and we can pay it out whenever we want.”
About $400 million is restricted federal aid, grants and other monies, Smith said. He added another approximately $400 million is “clearly committed” to funding plans at the system’s various colleges and universities.
Giroux said the UW System should make its financial reserves data more visible to the public.
“We have to do a better job of explaining this and presenting it in a more transparent way,” Giroux said.
Rep. Stephen Nass, R-Whitewater, said the UW System should freeze tuition rates for the next four years, according to his spokesperson Mike Mikalsen.
Other legislative leaders believe the system should not receive any additional funding and its entire $181 million budget should be slashed, Mikalsen said.
Mikalsen added Smith is “part of the problem,” as he is being dishonest about the “slush fund” reserves deemed already committed to programming.
“Frankly, it’s a lie, a flat out lie,” Mikalsen said, adding regents besides Smith had been unaware of the system’s surplus.
The Board of Regents have not taken a single vote designating any of that money for any expenditures and only UW System President Kevin Reilly and “his minions” have appropriate such finds, Mikalsen said.
Mikalsen also called for Reilly to be removed from his role as UW System president.
“Representative Nass wants you to know this is just another example in a lengthy list of scandals that have occurred under Kevin Reilly’s leadership,” Mikalsen said. “That is why Representative Nass has called on Kevin Reilly to resign or for the Board of Regents to fire him.”
Mikalsen said Nass believes rebuilding trust between UW System leadership and Legislature can occur only if Reilly is gone.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.