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Budget Committee: Cut UW System Funding by $250 Million, Eliminate Tenure Law, Freeze Tuition

Budget committee members finished DNR and UW System items late Friday, then adjourned until next week

All Republicans on the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee voted in favor of the changes, all Democrats voted against them. The budget plan would cut funding for the University of Wisconsin System by $250 million over the next two years, rather than the $300 million Gov. Walker wanted.

The budget committee agreed with Walker to eliminate the state law protecting tenure or indefinite status for faculty. Instead, the appointed UW Board of Regents would determine who is granted tenure.

UW System President Ray Cross says he's grateful Joint Finance reduced the governor's proposed funding cut for the state's universities, and he predicted the Board of Regents would move quickly to adopt a tenure policy.

UWM Chancellor Mark Mone released a statement Saturday reading in part:

"We appreciate the willingness of the Joint Finance Committee to reduce the size of the cut and to provide additional funding for the costs of fringe benefits to our employees. It is also our hope that the flexibilities provided in the budget bill by the Committee will benefit us in coming years. At the same time, I want to reiterate that managing the size of this budget reduction on our campus will be extremely challenging. Our Budget Planning Task Force is continuing its work on recommending how we should administer the budget cuts and I expect to review its recommendations soon."

The budget panel voted to limit the UW System's shared governance model but rejected the governor's call to give the system independence from most state oversight.

Under the committee's budget, Wisconsin would freeze UW System tuition for another two years. State leaders enacted the first two-year tuition freeze, after records revealed the system had amassed surplus dollars for future purposes, while continuing to raise tuition.

Another provision in the proposed 2015-2017 UW System budget would allow the Madison and Milwaukee campuses to authorize charter schools in those two cities.

In addition, the plan would allow several other entities to oversee independent charter schools. Gaining that authority in Racine - the Racine Gateway Technical College; in Waukesha - the Waukesha County Executive.

After the Joint Finance Committee finishes its budget work, the package goes before the state Assembly and Senate, and then back to Gov. Walker for possible vetoes.

Several noteworthy items still face the budget committee including Wisconsin's transportation budget and potential state funding for a new Milwaukee Bucks' arena. Joint Finance will resume its deliberations next week.

Before tackling the UW System budget on Friday, the committee agreed with Gov. Walker to eliminate 80 positions within the Dept. of Natural Resources. Those would include 19 researchers in the agency's Science Bureau, leaving it with 18, and cutting 11 natural resources educator positions, leaving the DNR with seven public educators.

However, Joint Finance rejected Walker's call to block the DNR from purchasing land for at least the next 13 years, through its stewardship program. The committee scrapped the moratorium but limited borrowing for land purchases through 2020.

Voting on the DNR budget also fell along party lines - with all Republicans approving the plan and all Democrats rejecting it.

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