State News

Cross: Proposed budget is best in a decade

UW System President Ray Cross praised Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal in an appearance before the state Joint Finance Committee Thursday.

Image By: Madeline Heim

UW System officials praised Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget Thursday in an appearance before the state’s powerful budget-writing committee, saying they were “very pleased” with the suggested funding level.

In his testimony, UW System President Ray Cross told the Joint Finance Committee that Walker’s proposed 2017-’19 biennium budget is the most investment in the UW in over a decade.

Walker’s proposal calls for $140 million in new funding to the state’s 16 public universities, including $42.5 million tied to each university’s performance in certain metrics. Cross expressed support for this performance-based funding model, saying it meshed with the UW System’s work to publish data on the effectiveness of its programs.

“... We should be focused on investing in, measuring, and rewarding outcomes rather than inputs,” Cross said in his testimony. “Both the Governor and UW System have embraced this idea and propose different funding models to incentivize outcomes at our institutions. While each take a different approach, the broad goals are the same.”

Cross also emphasized the need to improve college affordability and help students earn degrees faster. He praised an increase in funding accompanying Walker’s proposed 5 percent in-state tuition cut.

“The Governor is also clearly focused on affordability, with both an increase in financial aid and funding to offset a tuition cut included in his plan,” Cross said. “Affordability is our shared destination—we just have slightly different paths to get there. We prefer efforts to target financial aid because that will directly help the students with the most need.”

Questions about the viability of a tuition cut have surfaced, with lawmakers questioning whether an across-the-board reduction is necessary. Cross told committee members he supported targeting financial aid, a plan supported by legislators from both parties.

Few lawmakers opted to press Cross on an impending audit of UW System foundations after the Board of Regents filed suit against UW-Oshkosh for misusing foundation funds. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said earlier this week that the scandal could affect the UW System’s budget.

Cross told reporters Thursday that the Board of Regents is in the process of sorting out any improprieties.

“We hope that they will understand that this was an anomaly," Cross said. "We’re doing everything we can to properly deal with it, and to do it in a transparent, open fashion.”

Cross’ testimony is one of the first steps in the budget process. The Joint Finance Committee will now travel the state in a series of public hearings before they produce their own amendments to Walker’s proposal. That version of the budget will then head to both houses of the state Legislature and then the governor.

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