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The proposed state budget takes a turn when surplus is noted.

UW–Madison entered the biennial state budget process earlier this year on solid footing. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker included $89 million in new funding for the UW System in the proposal he sent to the state legislature in February.

Interim Chancellor David Ward MS’62, PhD’63 called it “the best budget we have seen in many cycles.”

By summer, things went from best to worst.

Lawmakers were outraged to learn the UW System had cash balances totaling $648 million, accusing university officials of mishandling taxpayer money and falsely inflating the financial stress on the System. Of that total, $298 million was ascribed to UW-Madison. Ward countered that this sum — less than 25 percent of the university’s annual budget — was relatively small compared to other peer institutions, and that most of the funds were already committed to projects across the campus.

In response, Walker unveiled — and legislators passed — a revised, bleaker version of the UW System budget. It removed the new money, froze tuition for two years, and also delayed for two years a plan that was to give UW–Madison more autonomy and flexibility in how it classifies, recruits, pays, and evaluates its twenty-one thousand employees. Walker signed the budget June 30.

Finances aside, one of the biggest challenges facing UW- Madison and its new chancellor, Rebecca Blank, is the damage done to its already fractured relationship with state lawmakers.

“The state provides only 15 percent of our support at this point, and it wasn’t very long ago that it was greater than 50 percent,” Blank said when she first arrived on campus this summer. “I want to make sure that our message gets out to the citizens of Wisconsin, of what the value of this university is as an educational institution and as a place of innovation.”

Published in the Fall 2013 issue

Tags: administration, budget, politics

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