Two Democratic state lawmakers spoke at a town hall Wednesday about securing funding for a new University of Wisconsin-Madison engineering building despite Republican opposition to the funding.
Rep. Francesca Hong and Sen. Kelda Roys, both of Madison, advocated for funding the project at the event, which was held by the Society of Women Engineers at UW-Madison.
The Republican-led state budget-writing committee slashed $347 million in funding for a new engineering building from the two-year state budget in June after Democratic Gov. Tony Evers included $3.8 billion in funding for the building in his 2023-25 budget proposal.
Recently, the CEOs of over 40 companies in Wisconsin, who previously dedicated $147 million toward the project, said in an open letter they will withdraw their funding if the state does not support the project. They argued increased College of Engineering enrollment would be an economic boon to the state.
“This expansion will enable the university to serve more Wisconsin students and employers and will assist in the recruitment and retention of top-tier faculty members, sustaining its excellence in research and education,” the letter read.
Roys echoed her past sentiments at the town hall. She said the budget cut was motivated by partisan politics and reflects historic trends in the Legislature.
“There has been long-term animosity between Republican legislators and UW, and this is just the latest excuse that he’s using,” Roys said.
Hong agreed, saying the building's loss would have a negative impact on the Wisconsin workforce.
“I worry about the economic impact for the city and how this is going to impact the state economically as well, and that does harm our students,” Hong said. “[Employers] were advocating for this funding because they know that their firms need engineers.”
Over the past 40 years, state funding for universities has decreased from 40% to 13.9%, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s analysis of the 2023-25 biennial budget.
Republican legislators also recently blocked pay raises for UW System employees in an effort to force the UW System to eliminate diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) positions.
“They’re holding hostage pay raises for these folks because [Vos] is currently more concerned with cutting programs that would include more diverse voices across all of our public system schools,” Hong said.
Hong and Roys also dived into the housing crisis during the Q&A portion of the meeting.
Recent struggles in the market have also left many UW-Madison students unable to find affordable housing. Roys argued the housing shortage can be alleviated by building more low-income and affordable housing.
“[Vos] also happens to be a property owner and has been pushing legislation for the past 10 to 12 years that benefits property owners over renters, which doesn’t bode well for Madison because we’re a majority-renter city,” Hong said.
Both lawmakers said university funding and housing changes will only occur if Democrats take control of the Assembly in the next election cycle.
“Until we have a majority, we can’t change those particular laws,” Roys said. “Part of the challenge in Madison is that for 20 years we have not built housing to keep up with every hand, we have such a massive housing deficit that it seems like we’re building new buildings all the time and yet still the rents are going up.”