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Chancellor calls budget-trimming directive 'troubling'

State agencies anticipated budget cuts beyond those enacted earlier this year, but University of Wisconsin System chancellors are shocked by reductions they've been ordered to make.

Last week the Wisconsin Department of Administration announced the distribution of $174 million in cuts to state agencies' 2011-2013 budgets and ordered that the UW schools take 38% of that hit.

"Although we anticipated and planned for the university to absorb a reasonable level of budget cut as part of the state budget lapse, the magnitude of the proposed budget cut is shocking and troubling," said UW-River Falls Chancellor Dean Van Galen Monday.

"It is difficult to categorize as fair or reasonable asking a state agency that constitutes 7% of the state budget to take 38% of the budget lapse," he said.

Van Galen said the proposed distribution means UW-RF must cut $1.3 million during the fiscal year that began July 1 and another $556,132 in fiscal year 2012-13.

That's on top of the $2.8 million base reduction UW-RF took in the state budget adopted this past summer.

"We are four months into the fiscal year. Commitments have been made in the areas of personnel, educational supply and technology purchases and equipment," said Van Galen.

UW System spokesman David Giroux said the $65 million in new cuts expected of the universities is disproportionate to what other agencies are being told to slash.

Van Galen agrees. He said the size of the cut is "surprising and troubling."

Besides, he said, now is a poor time to cut funding for an educational system. He and other chancellors argue that higher education must be a key partner to creating good-paying jobs.

"As a state, we must realize that the work of public universities is critical to solving the short- and long-term economic challenges that we face and to sustaining the high quality of life that Wisconsin has enjoyed for many years," said Van Galen.

When UW-RF dealt with its $2.8 million budget cut, an 11% reduction in state support, it made cuts in a variety of areas, said Van Galen.

"Several positions at the university, including two cabinet level positions, were eliminated as part of the cut. It was necessary to make reductions in critical areas such as instruction, student services, information-technology support and facilities," he said. "We have tried to protect the core teaching and learning mission of the university, but cuts of this magnitude make that impossible."

The chancellor said the universities are asking the state to reconsider its course of action.

"I think it is important to note that the current Department of Administration plan would disproportionately impact UW System students, with the proposed cut being roughly equal in magnitude to the 5.5% tuition increase students are paying this year," said Van Galen.

The cuts to other state programs include:

  • $13.4 million over two years in cuts for the state prison system and the Department of Corrections.
  • $26.6 million for the state Department of Health Services.
  • $11.8 million at the Department of Children and Families, which runs programs such as the Wisconsin Shares child-care subsidy program for low-income families.
  • $3.4 million in cuts to state aid to local governments.

The planned cuts to the UW System and other state programs are still subject to review by the Legislature's Joint Committee on Finance.

A recent letter from the Department of Administration advised state agencies that another $126 million in cuts are possible.

The budget was based on estimates done by the Legislature's budget office in May and assumed tax collections will increase by 3% this fiscal year and 3.6% the next year. Since then, the economy has not grown as well as anticipated.

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.