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Gov. Evers’ Address to the UW Board of Regents PDF Print E-mail
Written by GOV Press Wisconsin   
Monday, 10 June 2024 12:06

uwm-mitchellGovernor attended UW Board of Regents meeting in Milwaukee, urged collaboration to increase state support for UW System by over $800 in next state budget.

MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers on Friday attended the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin (UW) System meeting in Milwaukee and addressed the Board of Regents. Gov. Evers in his remarks urged the Board of Regents to join him in supporting significant increases to support the UW System in the 2025-27 budget. Gov. Evers announced to the Board of Regents he will be requesting a $400 million increase in each year of the biennium in the state’s next biennial budget—an $800 million increase over the two-year budget period, the largest biennial increase in state funding for the UW System in state history—a move aimed at preventing further staff and faculty layoffs, campus closures, and program cuts and consolidations. The UW System will be submitting its biennial budget request this fall for the governor’s consideration as he prepares his 2025-27 executive budget to be introduced in early 2025.

The governor’s announcement comes as five UW branch campuses have announced closures and several UW campuses have been forced to furlough and lay off employees, shift funding or make cuts, and restructure portions of campus operations, which the governor argued in his remarks is largely due to Republican lawmakers’ actions and inaction over the last decade, as highlighted in recent reporting by PolitiFact Wisconsin. According to the State Higher Education Finance Report, which is released by the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, Wisconsin ranked 42nd for public funding for four-year colleges based on 2022 data. A report released in April 2023 by the Wisconsin Policy Forum found that the UW System ranked 43rd nationally for per-student funding in 2021.

Gov. Evers’ address to the UW System Board of Regents is available below:

tony-eversIt is great to be here, and thank you all for the opportunity to be here today. It’s been a long time.

First and foremost, I appreciate the work that you do on behalf of the state of Wisconsin and the University of Wisconsin System. Having sat in your seats for years—actually, I think it was 11-plus, if I remember correctly—during my time as state superintendent, I want to tell you how grateful I am that you believe that our UW System and our UW campuses are among the most valuable assets we have in the state of Wisconsin.

UW is central to our state’s economy. It is an essential part of our promise of public education. It’s critical for our state’s workforce and recruiting, and retaining, and training talent for the state’s future. UW has a long, historic tradition of solving complex problems, marshaling world-class research to inform better governance, and being a laboratory for innovation that has saved and changed lives here in Wisconsin and across the world.

But there is no dispute that, despite our best efforts, for more than a decade now, we’ve watched a war being waged on public higher education in Wisconsin, devastating effects of which include campus closures, staff and faculty layoffs, and program cuts and consolidation.

Despite our best efforts these past five years to undo a decade of damage in the making, what we’re seeing is a decade-long war on one of our state’s most prized institutions. We’ve also seen how UW System has increasingly been used as a political punching bag. And I know that hurts.

It has always been my belief—then as a regent and now as governor—that the Board of Regents should not be an extension of any branch of government or elected official. I’m here today because I want to reaffirm that the Board of Regents should have the independence and autonomy necessary to carry out the important work the people of Wisconsin expect. And I’m here today because of that obligation and the responsibility that we share.

Early next year, I will introduce my 2025-2027—seems like that came up real fast—biennial budget proposal. In September, UW System will submit its biennial budget request, as approved by you, the Board of Regents, for my consideration in the next budget.

Every budget I have ever built began with public education and doing what’s best for our students. And that work begins here today.

At the heart of my executive budget will be addressing the challenges facing our UW System, including making the investments necessary to try and right a decade worth of wrongs. To that end, today,  I am asking you to send a budget request to my desk that meets this critical moment and the urgent, significant needs of our UW System.

In my next biennial budget, I will propose—and I am asking you to submit in your agency budget request—the largest biennial budget increase in our UW System’s state history. I will ask the Legislature to provide an increase of over $400 million in each year of the biennium for the UW System, and I am here today to ask for your consideration and support.

We are here today at a critical juncture in the UW System’s history. We must make historic and significant investments in this next biennial budget if we are going to prevent further degradation of the UW System. Being 42nd in the nation in state support does not cut it.

If we want to bring bright, new talent to our state, if we want to make sure folks choose Wisconsin as the place where they want to build their careers, open a business, buy a house, start a family, and if we want to address generational changes and challenges facing our state, then we must invest in the University of Wisconsin System. It’s that simple.

Our state’s future depends on our ability to meet those goals, and this more than $800 million increase is a crucial step in the right direction to get our UW System back on the right track. And I am hopeful you will support this important effort.

And I just have to go off script here, every speech I get, I always have one or two of these:

So, I have to tell you about yesterday. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to be in Northern Wisconsin, and it was an annual event that brings people together, Native Nations—Ojibwe Nations, in particular—and Wisconsin people that work in the fisheries and industry, and they are this group that talk every year not only about the rights of the Native Nations but also making sure that the system is sound. That everybody is working together, and this includes people from Minnesota and Wisconsin.

And I had a chance during the time between sessions to talk to people and say, “hey where’d you go to college?”

And whether Minnesota or Wisconsin it—the chancellor from Stevens Point?—everybody, everybody went to school there. Think about that.

And, just for your information, fishing in Wisconsin is a $2.3 billion—billion—enterprise, so thank you, Chancellor. We wouldn’t have it without you...or Stevens Point...or the UW System or any—I could go down the row here and talk about every single campus and the impact they make on our economy. Outstanding.

I can trace the path of my success back to the high-quality public education I received at the University of Wisconsin System just like many in this room and, guess what, many of our Legislators.

So, I look forward to the opportunities ahead to make this next budget one that reflects our state’s proud tradition, and I look forward to our work, together, in the months ahead.

Thanks a lot for the time today. Appreciate it.

Republican lawmakers have spent more than a decade waging war on public education in Wisconsin, including the UW System and higher education institutions, and since they took control over the Wisconsin State Legislature in 2011, they have consistently refused to make the necessary, meaningful investments that campuses desperately need to compete and that students deserve.

According to a memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, in the 2011-13 biennial budget, the UW System requested more than $214.6 million over the biennium to fund their operations, but the Republican-controlled Legislature and former Gov. Scott Walker actually cut their budget by more than $203.7 million—resulting in a gap between what the UW System requested and what they were provided of more than $400 million. Republicans’ cuts to the UW System budget in the 2013-15 and 2015-17 budgets similarly resulted in gaps of more than $39 million and nearly $340 million between what the System requested and what was provided, respectively. After cutting a cumulative total of more than $412.6 million over three consecutive biennial budgets and while Gov. Walker was getting ready to run for re-election, during the 2017-19 budget, rather than cut the UW System’s funding further, Republicans provided approximately $12 million less than what the System requested. All of this is in addition to and on top of a decade-long tuition freeze, and with no new additional funding to offset the rising costs from the state, the UW System continued to see large deficits.

This pattern by Republicans in the Legislature of starving the UW System has continued throughout Gov. Evers’ administration despite his steadfast advocacy for providing meaningful support for the state’s higher education institutions. In the governor’s first budget, he proposed providing a $150 million increase for the UW System—the largest increase for the UW System in more than a decade. Unfortunately, Republican lawmakers only provided $66.5 million for the UW System in the 2019-21 budget, with more than $53 million of that funding set aside in the Joint Committee on Finance’s (JFC) supplemental appropriation—a fund controlled by the committee’s Republican supermajority, which persistently refuses to expeditiously release already-approved investments from the fund. This meant only $12.7 million was made readily available for the System to utilize upon the enactment of the budget, and the UW System had to come before the committee again to request the release of those funds at a later date.

In the 2021-23 budget, the governor again proposed a significant increase for the UW System—$190 million over the biennium—and Republicans instead provided just $15.4 million, more than $170 million less than what Gov. Evers recommended, and more than half of that amount was set aside in the JFC supplemental appropriation.

Finally, during the 2023-25 biennial budget process, Gov. Evers proposed more than $305 million for the UW System, and Republican lawmakers again rejected the governor’s proposed investments, at one point threatening to gut the System of tens of millions of dollars. In response, the governor warned: “These cuts will be disastrous for our UW System, almost certainly causing cuts to campuses and critical programs statewide, and will only hurt our kids, our state’s economy, and our state’s workforce in the process.” Instead, Republicans chose to divert more than $31 million to the JFC supplemental appropriation and attempted to cut 188 positions relating to efforts around diversity and equity, the latter of which Gov. Evers was able to ensure UW could retain through vetoes in the biennial budget. Still, the governors’ warning has proven to be well founded, as the System has seen layoffs, furloughs, programs cut or restructured, and entire branch campuses closing their doors in just the past eight months.

In light of Republican lawmakers’ failure to meaningfully invest in the UW System through the 2023-25 biennial budget process, Gov. Evers shortly thereafter called a special session of the Legislature for September 2023 for the Legislature to take up his comprehensive workforce plan, which included an additional more than $100 million investment in the state’s higher education institutions, including an additional $66.4 million for the UW System to help recruit, train, and retain talent in an effort to bolster the state’s workforce.

Republicans in the Legislature refused to take up the governor’s comprehensive workforce plan, rejecting investments in Wisconsin’s universities and technical colleges even as UW-Oshkosh announced last year that approximately 200 employees’ jobs were expected to end. At UW-Platteville, the university announced it would be eliminating 111 positions to help address its deficit. And UW-Green Bay announced that nine staff members would be laid off, affecting library services at their Manitowoc and Sheboygan campuses and a program aimed at helping high schoolers earn college credits. UW-Green Bay also announced they are considering discontinuing majors in economics, environmental policy and planning, and the arts, as well as minors in international environmental studies, geography, and physics.

Earlier this year, in response to the University Financial Assessments released by the UW System for seven UW campuses, UW-Green Bay, UW-Oshkosh, UW-Parkside, UW-Platteville, UW-River Falls, UW-Superior, and UW-Whitewater, Gov. Evers announced he would be asking the Legislature to approve the largest increase in state support for the UW System in more than two decades in the next biennial budget. The assessments examine the strained financial circumstances facing UW System campuses—a consequence driven largely by both disinvestment in the UW System over the last decade-plus and inadequate recent state investments approved by the Legislature to make the UW System whole.

In March, Gov. Evers also signed 2023 Wisconsin Act 250 with partial vetoes, creating the Branch Redevelopment Grant Program, administered by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), to award up to $2 million to cities, villages, towns, or counties to assist in the costs of redevelopment of UW System branch campus buildings that will no longer be used for academic purposes as a result of the five branch campuses that are closing. Act 250 also appropriated $20 million to the JFC supplemental appropriation for the program. The governor’s partial veto of the bill removed restrictive statutory requirements to allow greater flexibility for WEDC to award grants to counties more efficiently and reduce financial burdens on the local communities requesting the funds. Additional information on Act 250 is available here. The governor’s veto message for Act 250 is available here.

A copy of the 13.10 request submitted by WEDC to JFC is available here.

In May, Gov. Evers sued the Legislature over the Republican-controlled JFC’s refusal to release a critical investment aimed at improving K-12 student literacy, one of many investments intended to respond to pressing challenges facing Wisconsin, including the aforementioned funds to support communities facing UW branch campus closures, funds to combat PFAS statewide, and funds to respond to abrupt hospital closures in Western Wisconsin. Additional information on Gov. Evers’ countersuit and Republicans’ refusal to release nearly $200 million in already-approved funding to fight PFAS, improve kids’ literacy, and respond to hospital closures in Western Wisconsin is available here.

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