State News

Democratic lawmakers discuss state budget concerns in campus listening session

State Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, and state Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, discussed the proposed 2017-’19 budget in a campus listening session Thursday.

Image By: Ben Golden

Democratic state legislators held a public listening event on campus Thursday to air their concerns over Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed biennial budget and answer any questions on the matter from constituents.

State Rep. Chris Taylor and state Sen. Fred Risser, both of whom represent the Madison area, led a discussion to help those in attendance understand what the budget means for them, especially in terms of its impact on the university.

A topic of concern for many students was the budget item allowing students to opt out of paying segregated fees as a part of their tuition, which act as the primary funding for many student resources and organizations.

“There are Republicans who represent a lot of UW campuses,” Taylor stated. “I think on the segregated fee issue that they were hearing a lot about it. There was a lot of effort being made by students.”

The item was subsequently removed from the budget during revision by the Joint Finance Committee, along with 82 other legislative riders.

“In terms of the UW System, we’ve had a couple of really hard budgets,” Taylor said. “In total, the system has lost almost $800 million in state aid since 2011.”

Walker’s newly proposed budget would be the first to increase investment in the UW System during his administration; last year’s state aid came in at the lowest in the history of Wisconsin when adjusted for inflation.

However, much of this increased funding comes with high levels of oversight and conditionality, including distributing funds to UW campuses based on several criteria of academic performance.

Roughly half of the approximately $100 million of increased investment would be available to the Board of Regents pending an approved plan for its use by the state.

“Education is vitally important, and our governor has a history of cutting it,” Risser said. “[Walker] talks about a step forward but for every step forward he goes three steps back.”

Taylor was also critical of Walker's investment in education, citing the upcoming gubernatorial election as a primary reason for reinvestment in popular programs that have been cut in the past.

The level of spending would even put Wisconsin in a $1.05 billion shortfall for the next budget, which could create opposition within his own party, who have made the elimination of budget deficits a priority, according to the Democratic state legislators.

“A really important statement of your values is what you put in your budget,” said U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., who made a surprise appearance at the event after his own town hall.

“Unfortunately, with this budget, while they put a little lipstick on the pig, so to speak, it’s still a pig,” Pocan said.

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