Budget committee takes up UW system funding for 2021 – 23

The legislature’s budget-writing Joint Committee on Finance took action on UW System’s 2021-23 operating budget Thursday, making significant changes to the biennial budget recommended by Gov. Tony Evers in February.

If passed by the full legislature, this biennial budget would restore the Board of Regents’ authority to set tuition for in-state, undergraduate students without a legislated freeze. Separate legislation has already been introduced to limit tuition increases to the rate of inflation.

The budget adopted by the committee includes a total of $8.25 million in new funding for the UW System over the biennium, all of it earmarked for specific projects:

• $2.5 million General Purpose Revenue (GPR) in each year of the biennium for the Freshwater Collaborative, a systemwide initiative
• $1 million GPR in each year for UW-Madison to hire additional Division of Extension state agriculture specialists
• $250,000 GPR in one-time funding to support a Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies Collaboration with the Department of Defense
• $750,000 GPR for programs across UW System that serve youth in foster care
• $250,000 GPR in one-time funding for a collaboration with the Water Council and the Department of Defense

The committee also provided $5 million GPR in the second year of the biennium for nurse educators in the Higher Education Aids Board (HEAB) part of the state budget. This funding can be used for grants and loan repayment assistance for nurses who commit to teaching for three or more years in Wisconsin.

UW–Madison Chancellor Rebecca M. Blank acknowledged the challenge legislators face in crafting a two-year spending plan.

“We appreciate the end of the tuition freeze, allowing UW institutions to manage tuition increases within reasonable limits. We will continue to advocate for other priorities, including much-needed facilities for the College of Engineering and the College of Letters and Science. We will also make the case for continued investment in our greatest asset —the faculty and staff who make this university great,” said Blank.

UW system leaders credited legislators for not extending current funding lapses into the next biennium.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, last year state agencies were asked to lapse a portion of their state funding back to the State of Wisconsin by the current administration. In a recent action by the Joint Committee on Finance, a number of agencies were required to carry forward this lapse. UW System was not one of these agencies. For UW System, this would have been a $45 million reduction in the operating budget on an annual basis.

“By not extending the $45 million annual budget reduction and by not further mandating a tuition freeze, the budget committee offers the UW System flexibility to develop talent, generate life-changing research and deliver the education students expect and families deserve, “ said University of Wisconsin System President Tommy Thompson.

In the coming weeks, the committee will take up the remaining portions of the 2021-23 state budget including funds for building and maintenance, as well as annual pay plans for state employees. After the Joint Committee on Finance concludes its work, the biennial budget bill will be voted on by each house of the legislature and returned to the governor’s desk for signature and/or vetoes.