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Friday, June 14, 2024

State deficit may lead to UW tuition hike

The debate over how best to repair the broken state budget, which may or may not result in a tuition increase for UW-Madison students, will dominate the activities of the state Legislature in the early months of 2002. 




Gov. Scott McCallum has already announced that he will call the Legislature into a special session to deal with the budget crisis on Tuesday, the same day that the regular legislative session is scheduled to begin. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau released its most recent budget forecast this past Wednesday, which estimates the state deficit at $1.1 billion. 




While at least two groups of legislators have offered ideas on how to get rid of that deficit, members of both parties are currently waiting for McCallum to unveil his plan for balancing the budget before a joint session of the Legislature on Tuesday. 




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So far the governor has not made public which state agencies and programs he thinks should make spending cuts; rather, he has spotlighted programs he wants to continue funding at current or increased levels and pledged not to include any tax increases in his budget plan. 




\We'll just have to wait and see,"" said Debbie Monterrey-Millett, the governor's press secretary, Wednesday when asked if McCallum's budget plan will include a tuition increase.  




""The first step that we've proposed is to freeze spending,"" said Steve Baas, spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, R-Waukesha. A spending freeze would require state agencies to make do with the same amount of money for two consecutive years, saving the state around $500 million, Baas estimated. 




""One thing we think should not be considered is tax increases,"" Baas said, because by increasing taxes ""all we're doing is pushing those tough decisions down to the kitchen table, where family budgets are made."" 




Baas added that the budget difficulties will force the UW System Board of Regents to make some tough decisions on how to survive with less state funding. 




""When the big sow dries up, all the little piggies go hungry,"" he said. 




While Republicans control the Assembly and governor's chair, a Democratic majority in the Senate must also sign off on a budget solution. 




A prime concern voiced by a spokesperson for Joint Committee on Finance Co-Chair Brian Burke, D-Milwaukee, is that the governor ""wants everybody to nod along"" once he reveals his budget proposals. 




""Sen. Burke's priority is to make sure that there's a lot of opportunity for public comment [on spending cuts],"" said Bob Allen, a spokesperson for Burke.  




""Some of the cuts proposed ... could result in huge tuition increases,"" Allen said. ""Nobody in the Senate is willing to go along with that without having an opportunity for students and parents [to respond]."" 




Cuts in university funding could disrupt the second phase of the Madison Initiative, according to Linda Weimer, vice president of university relations. The second phase of the Madison Initiative is a plan aiming to increase student financial aid and faculty hiring. 




""The President and Regents are waiting to see what the proposals will be,"" Weiner said. ""We are hoping that the Governor and Legislature will keep an eye on the special role the university is playing as a place to kick-start the economy and not just a place to cut the budget.\

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