State News

Walker signs overdue budget into law, finalizing UW funding boost

Gov. Scott Walker officially signed the 2017-’19 budget into effect Thursday at Tullar Elementary School in Neenah.

Gov. Scott Walker officially signed the 2017-’19 budget into effect Thursday at Tullar Elementary School in Neenah.

Image By: Courtsey of Scott Walker

Gov. Scott Walker officially signed the 2017-19 state budget Thursday in Neenah, ending a months-long stalemate over the $76 billion document.

The UW System will receive a slight funding boost. Although it doesn’t recover the $250 million slashed from the university's coffers in the last budget, this is the first budget in eight previous budgets the university did not receive cuts.

The budget allocates a bump in funding for the state's public universities by over $100 million and adds in an additional $31.5 million in money tied to the performance of each university in a series of metrics.

Metrics require schools in the system to performance against a set of criteria that will determine their share of state funding.

On Wednesday, Walker partially vetoed 99 provisions in the budget. He rejected the ability for universities to choose their own metrics to rate themselves against, saying schools would choose metrics that would not be challenging to meet.

UW System faculty will also see a two percent wage increase each year of the two-year budget starting in July.

“We asked for reinvestment in UW System and are grateful our message was heard by the members of the committee,” said UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank earlier this month. “We’re also pleased to see employee compensation increases accelerated by the committee today, which will help us attract and retain talent.”

The spending blueprint also distributes money for construction at each UW System campus, requires faculty report how many hours they spend teaching and continues a tuition freeze for in-state students.

The freeze is expected to save the average student $6,311 over four years, according to Walker. Though tuition will be frozen for its fifth straight year, housing costs and student fees will rise.

"This budget proves you can provide more money for our schools and lower property taxes at the same time," Walker said in a statement.

UW campuses across the state will start new construction projects using $60 million granted in the capital budget. At UW-Madison, new parking garages will be built while Lathrop Drive and Bascom Hill will see renovations.

One provision that was originally removed from the budget by the Joint Finance Committee and then put back in last minute would require UW System faculty and professors to monitor and report their workload. The aim, Walker said, is to hold faculty accountable and have records of teacher workload to show taxpayers their money is well spent.

Blank, however, is concerned that the provision wouldn’t account for the time professors and faculty spend out of the classroom to research or assist their field in other areas of Wisconsin.

Under the budget, the system will receive $1.5 million each year to create and run the Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership that will issue grants for objective political research relevant to the state and require the system to spend $500,000 a year on speakers at campuses other than UW-Madison.

It’s expected that the center will focus on scheduling conservative speakers to balance the number of liberal speakers often booked.

Also under the budget, Board of Regents will get $5 million to grant campuses that are competitive in increasing high demand degree programs. On Wednesday, Walker struck part of the provision that allows the regents to choose the definition of “high demand.”

Republicans are calling this budget one “we can all be proud of” that has both “historic K-12 education funding” while keeping taxes low.

Democrats, however, say the budget is “rigged” and “hurts families.”

“Families in Wisconsin deserve better than a budget that continues to delay road projects, limits healthcare access and takes funding away from local schools,” state Senate minority leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, said in a statement.

Thursday’s passage officially kicks in the new funding levels throughout the state. Since the budget was months late due to disagreements between Assembly Republicans and Senate Republicans over transportation funding and tax, the state has been operating on last year’s levels.

Now that the 2017-’19 budget is finalized, it’s expected Walker will soon announce his re-election bid to serve a third term as governor of Wisconsin. 

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