Wednesday, June 8, 2016

UW Board of Regents feeling heat and trying to hide more cuts?

Tomorrow features the annual budget meeting for the UW Board of Regents, taking place at UW-Milwaukee. But if you look at the agenda for that meeting, you’ll notice some information missing. No budget numbers!

The Wisconsin State Journal’s Nico Savidge asked “What gives?”, and got a response from UW officials that indicated they’re going to keep those numbers hidden as long as they can.
But less than 24 hours before that vote -- and days after officials posted meeting materials online providing detailed information about other items on the agenda for this week's meeting -- UW still has yet to make its operating budget public.

UW System spokesman Alex Hummel said in an email Wednesday afternoon that officials plan to publicly release the details of the operating budget only once the Regents start their discussion of it around 1:30 p.m. Thursday.

"UW System staff, along with the Board of Regents office, have continued working on finalizing budget materials so they are ready for Board review when tomorrow’s public meeting, discussion and afternoon webcast take place," Hummel wrote in an email Wednesday afternoon.

Hummel said the Regents received "initial materials" relating to the budget earlier this week. He did not immediately respond to a question asking whether the Regents would have enough time to review the final budget before their vote.
This ranks high on the “What the hell?” list. These Regents are getting paid public dollars to make these decisions, but apparently the public isn’t allowed to find out what they might do with tuition, fees, and cuts to campuses until it’s too late?

In addition, how can universities (who do not seem to have made privy to the information) know what to plan for if they’re not being told what the funds are going forward, and how can they give feedback on the impact of any state aid cuts to their school, or a need to make up the difference elsewhere? Sounds like Ray Cross and the Walker-stacked BOR is very scared of having people find out what might be in those budget documents, and they wonder why campus after campus gives votes of no confidence in them?

Another item to be discussed as part of the Board of Regents meeting involves the Wisconsin Grants for higher education. This would add over $19 million to the 2017-19 budget for financial aid, and the Board of Regents says the increase is needed to deal with the higher need for the grant, and to restore the value in those grants that have been lost during the Age of Fitzwalkerstan.
...the number of Wisconsin Grant-UW recipients increased by 28% between 2009-10 and 2014-15, from 25,624 recipients to 32,885 recipients; but the average grant award decreased by 18%, from $2,161 to $1,773. To return average grants to the 2009-10 level of $2,161 would require an increase of $6,384,100 in 2017-18 and an additional $6,384,100 in 2018-19, or a biennial increase of $19,152,300.

During the same time period that the average Wisconsin Grant-UW award decreased by 18%, the UW System average cost of attendance increased by 16%, from $17,015 in 2009-10 to $19,702 in 2014-15 as shown in Table 2. The purchasing power of the Wisconsin Grant-UW, or the percentage of the cost of attendance covered by the average Wisconsin Grant-UW, dropped from 12.7% in 2009-10 to 9.0% in 2014-15. At the same time, the median household income for Wisconsin decreased from $55,163 in 2009 to $52,622 in 2014.

But of course, where is the money going to come from? We’ve already seen continuous revenue shortfalls over the last 3 years since 2013’s and 2014’s Koo-Koo tax cuts were put in place, and we’ve already seen the Walker Administration kick a $101 million debt payment into future years because we don’t have the cash available to pay it today. Add in deficits that are already apparent in transportation and nothing in place to control the increasing cost of Medicaid and other needs, and it's going to be hard to come up with an extra $19 million, especially for an organization too many Republicans seem to see no use for.

Regardless of future requests, students won’t see any benefits from a higher Wisconsin grant next year, which is likely to end up being a double-whammy as State Senator Jon Erpenbach said today that students will pay more for their schooling next year. Yes, despite Gov Walker’s claims that he’s helped "affordability" through his unfunded tuition freeze over the last 4 years, Erpenbach says that bill will be higher, mostly because of higher fees to pay for certain campus projects and activities. In addition, Erpenbach was skeptical that the request for higher Wisconsin grants would be in the Governor's next budget.
The budget reflects the ramifications of the second year of the $250 million dollar cut to state support for higher education in Wisconsin passed by the Republican controlled Legislature; Governor Walker recommended a $300 million cut. Student application fees will raise $10 and segregated fees also increase an average of $45 for every one of the 182,000 students. UW System has asked Governor Walker to include an increase in student financial aid of $400 per qualified student in his next budget, that request is expected to be rejected.
But what do we expect? If Walker wants to strike a pose on tuition, and doesn't want to fund the university at an appropriate level, the UW has to come up with the money to stay afloat somehow, beyond the inevitable cuts that are coming.

But as of 8pm Wednesday night, we still don't know what other changes the President Ray Cross and the UW Board of Regents has in mind for a budget year that starts in 3 weeks. And it's probably because the other cuts and "adjustments" that need to made aren't something that Scott Walker, the Wisconsin GOP, and their spokespeople on the BOR want the public to find out about, which would add discontent to what has already been an obviously unpopular strategy of defunding and deforming the economic engine know as the UW System. I just hope there aren't any horrible surprises or funding schemes that get sprung on people tomorrow to make up for this damage.


  1. By accident or by design, nothing guarantees maximum attention to this matter like the highly unusual decision to withhold the budget information until the last possible moment. If there is a trick in the works by the UW System administration to slip some budgetary shenanigans by the public then the first part of the plan has clearly failed. Alternately, if the idea was to make sure the public sees the gory mess that's been forced on the UW by the Legislature's fiscal hatchet job, then well played.

    1. And there really wasn't all that much to be concerned about, except for the 10% increase in tuition funds, and the higher amount of seg fees at certain schools.

      But there was a great speech by Regent Pruitt on his way out the door that mentioned "The Wisconsin Idea is not a Drafting Error," and other great shots at Gov Dropout and the other goobers at WisGOP that want to press their thumb on the UW System