The co-chairs of the state Legislature’s budget committee slammed University of Wisconsin Chancellor Rebecca Blank Wednesday for “bringing Washington politics to Madison.”
Blank has raised concerns over Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal that would cut $300 million from the UW System while giving the system autonomy it has long sought. She has said the cuts would not make up for the long-term savings that would come from increased flexibility.
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But Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, criticized Blank’s recent comments on the issue that claim the proposal would hurt the UW campus.
“Is the current chancellor and former Obama appointee playing politics with our state’s universities?” the Joint Finance Committee co-chairs said in a statement. “We need to make decisions based on what’s best for Wisconsin students, and we believe that giving the UW System more autonomy will achieve that goal.
“In the future, we hope to have an open and honest dialogue with the System about the budget, as no constructive conversation will come from bringing Washington politics to Madison.”
Before coming to UW, Blank was the interim U.S. commerce secretary under President Barack Obama’s administration.
Blank responded in a statement that university officials “understand the pressures [legislators] are facing,” emphasizing that she supports the increased autonomy for the UW System.
“As I have stated in the past, flexibilities offered through a public authority model are welcome and would eventually allow the System to function more effectively,” Blank said. “However, we continue to be concerned about the impact of a proposed $300 million cut to the university system. We look forward to working with legislators throughout the budget process to reduce the impacts on the university.”
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Darling and Nygren contrasted Blank’s recent comments to when former UW Chancellor Biddy Martin “publicly praised” a 2011 proposal from Walker. That proposal would have split off UW-Madison from the UW System while cutting $125 million from UW-Madison.
“Today’s budget proposal is similar to that of the 2011-13 budget with one major difference — the autonomy and prospective $300 million cut would be spread between campuses in the entire UW System,” they said. “This may mean a lesser cut for the UW System’s flagship campus and more autonomy than what was proposed in 2011 — the proposal lauded by Chancellor Martin.”
The two had been strong critics of past UW System leadership, calling for former UW System President Kevin Reilly’s firing two years ago after lawmakers discovered hundreds of millions of dollars in reserve funds.
Nygren, however, has praised the new UW System President Ray Cross and wrote a letter of recommendation for him when he got hired early last year.
Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, a frequent UW critic, opposed Blank’s hiring but trusts Ray Cross and his new approach of cooperating with lawmakers, Nass’ spokesperson, Mike Mikalsen, said in a recent interview.
“People do believe that Ray will listen,” Mikalsen said. “Kevin Reilly’s leadership, there was no one frankly left in the Capitol that trusted anything he had to say in terms of their relationship. … Ray is a breath of fresh air.”