UW officials make case for budget

March 20, 2001

UW System officials this week urged lawmakers to make full funding of the Madison Initiative a top priority in budget deliberations.

The Joint Finance Committee began its budget briefings Monday, and UW System President Katharine Lyall was on hand to outline the Board of Regents “economic stimulus” package, which would supplement the governor’s budget proposal with an additional $20 million annually for key UW System initiatives.

“We know state funding promises to be very tight, and that you will be making painful decisions over the coming months,” Lyall told lawmakers. But she added that the package would be a modest investment promising a big return.

“The economic stimulus package outlines investments of one half of one percent of the anticipated state budget,” Lyall noted. “In return, the state would provide access for many more new students, more graduates in high-demand fields, and a package of very specific ‘brain gain’ initiatives to spark growth in our regional and local economies.”

Gov. Scott McCallum’s blueprint for the next state budget pares back the university’s funding request, but officials are hopeful that lawmakers will recognize that full funding of the Madison Initiative is a long-term investment for both the university and state.

McCallum’s proposed 2001-03 state budget is now in the Legislature. The new governor says a slowing economy and an estimated $1.1 billion structural deficit in the budget will force state agencies and the UW System to tighten their belts.

“We believe that Wisconsin’s economic weakness makes the investment package we proposed for the state even more critical than it was before,” said Regent President Jay Smith, who appeared at the budget briefing with Lyall.

Chancellor John Wiley has said that full funding of the Madison Initiative is a long-term investment not only for UW–Madison but also for the entire state of Wisconsin. Strongly supported by both parties and the governor in the last biennial budget, the Madison Initiative is already paying off handsomely, university officials say.

The governor’s budget plan includes $11.8 million for the Madison Initiative. For 2001-2003, the university requested $28 million from the state, pledging to raise another $20 million from donors. The money focuses on increasing educational options for students at the UW–Madison and for enhancing economic development.

In her presentation Monday to the finance committee, Lyall also sought more flexibility for regent spending decisions and more financial aid for students. “An important part of this “affordability” is financial aid,” Lyall told lawmakers. “The governor’s budget contains no increase in financial aid. We urge you to give that a very high priority.”

After review from the Joint Finance Committee, a bipartisan group of lawmakers from the Senate and Assembly, both houses of the Legislature also must approve a budget before the plan returns to the governor’s desk for final approval. The next immediate step will be Joint Finance Committee hearings to be held out around the state over the coming month.