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Chancellor Wiley warns of budget perils

October 5, 2004 By Dennis Chaptman

State budget difficulties and calls for a so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights threaten the quality of higher education in Wisconsin, UW–Madison Chancellor John D. Wiley said Monday.

“State budgets are still tight at best, and I can tell you that the competition in the discretionary part of the state budget is pretty fierce,” Wiley told the Faculty Senate in his annual “State of the University” address.

Against a troubling backdrop of rising tuition and declining state support, Wiley said further cuts would be hurtful.

“This is a major public policy decision that is being done not for a public policy reason,” Wiley said. “In other words, no one sat down and said, ‘This is a good thing to do,’ or even talked about it. It is done simply to balance the budget, as an expedient.”

Wiley voiced concern that rising tuition is putting the cost of higher education out of reach for low-income students and their families.

The economy appears to be improving, and there seems to be a sentiment in the state Capitol that the UW System absorbed more than its share of cuts in the 2003-05 state budget, Wiley said.

But those signs are no safeguard against further reductions in the 2005-07 budget, Wiley said, noting that the $3 billion deficit faced by state lawmakers going into the last budget will likely be about $1 billion this time around.

“We’re not out of the woods yet on the state budget, and it will take some work to get out of there,” Wiley said.

During the past decade, the percentage of state support of the entire UW–Madison budget has declined. In 1994, about 30 percent of the university budget was supported by state taxes, compared to 19.5 percent this year.

“This cannot go on forever,” Wiley said. “At some point, we’re going to have to have some relief.”

The chancellor also warned faculty about the likely return of the so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights, a proposed state constitutional amendment that would limit government spending by tying increases to population growth and inflation, personal income or some other index.

Critics have said such a move could seriously undermine Wisconsin’s economy and quality of life.

“This is an unmitigated disaster for the university,” Wiley warned. “It turns the state budget on to autopilot.”