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Budget passed by state Legislature includes flexibility, preserves broadband

June 17, 2011 By Stacy Forster

The $66 billion spending plan passed Thursday by the state Legislature for the next two years includes important administrative flexibilities for UW System institutions and preserves a critical state broadband network.

The spending plan approved by both the Senate and Assembly maintained provisions added by the Joint Committee on Finance to provide UW–Madison and other UW institutions greater leeway in areas of human resources, purchasing, travel, tuition and budget management.

Chancellor Biddy Martin has said the new flexibilities are an important first step in reforming the financial business model under which Wisconsin public higher education has operated for 40 years.

“I am delighted that UW–Madison and other campuses will have greater flexibility and decision-making authority,” Martin says.

The budget also requires UW–Madison to cut about $94 million from its budget over the next two years, part of a $250 million cut being absorbed by the entire UW System.

“We will continue to work with the deans and rely on [Vice Chancellor for Administration] Darrell Bazzell’s expertise to decide how best to handle the cuts in ways that are consistent with the university’s priorities,” Martin says.

UW-Madison administrators are having conversations about how such cuts might be implemented, and a variety of tools will be used, says Bazzell.

“Managing such a significant cut will not be easy, but having greater control over our resource will offer us additional ways of addressing the most critical needs,” Bazzell says.

Gov. Scott Walker will sign the budget in the coming days, but he is expected to exercise his veto powers to make some changes to the budget.

A provision was included to allow state and UW employees’ retirement contributions to be made on a pre-tax basis. For an employee earning $36,000 a year, the ability to make pre-tax contributions will save an estimated $475 a year, according to UW System figures.

The Legislature also voted to set up a task force on UW restructuring and operational facilities to look at how higher education is administered in Wisconsin, which was triggered by the discussion about the New Badger Partnership.

The budget passed by the Legislature removed language that would have eliminated the nonprofit WiscNet broadband cooperative and forced the UW System to return millions in federal funds to build a rural network that is used by schools and libraries across the state.

UW-Madison had argued that the elimination of WiscNet was potentially devastating because of the impact on the university’s research and educational mission.

An agreement reached late Wednesday allows UW–Madison to continue as a full member of WiscNet for the next two years while the Legislative Audit Bureau conducts an audit of UW’s relationship with the cooperative.

The agreement also allows UW-Extension to fulfill commitments already made on federal funds to continue the broadband project where it is already in place, but requires Joint Finance Committee approval before any further funds are spent.

The budget also includes:

  • An amendment to bring clarity and uniformity to state law as it pertains to the use of animal models in research. The amendment was proposed by a coalition of groups, including the UW System, concerned that animal cruelty statutes intended to prevent things like dog fighting and the use of decompression for mass euthanasia, a practice once widespread at animal shelters in Wisconsin, could interfere with bona fide scientific research.
  • Approval to spend $2.9 million in gifts and grants to upgrade a greenhouse in Birge Hall.