After threats of escalating tuition costs and drastic cuts in course availability, members on the state of Wisconsin Budget Conference Committee agreed on a budget that University of Wisconsin officials said is sufficient.
Now 124 days past its due date, the agreement was approved by the Budget Conference Committee 7-1, with Sen. Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, voting against the proposal. It is expected to be voted upon in the Assembly and Senate Tuesday.
UW System spokesperson David Giroux said the agreement, if accepted, will leave next semester's tuition unchanged.
"A budget means we can take the elimination of course sections and the cutting of this and the cutting of that and the raising of tuition - all those nasty contingency plans that nobody wanted to touch with a 10-foot pole - and put them back in the drawer," Giroux said.
Giroux said his interpretation of the budget agreement was extremely similar to the budget Gov. Doyle proposed earlier this month in a special session, calling it "the catalyst for what became this new compromise."
Giroux said the budget will fully cover the UW System's cost to continue, fully cover the Wisconsin Growth Agenda and will require the UW System to take a $25-million lapse within the next two years.
The lapse, Giroux said, is different than a cut, as cuts are permanent and get returned, whereas the lapse will be a "one-time giveback with maximum flexibility."
The agreement also funds the G.I. bill, which provides tuition for veterans. It also provides a $26.4-million increase in financial aid through the Wisconsin Higher Education Grants program.
"It's a strong signal to the students who enrolled this semester not knowing if they can cover all their bills that, in fact, relief is on the way," Giroux said.
John Murray, spokesperson for Assembly speaker Mike Huebsch, R-West Salem, did not go as far to say the speaker was "happy" about the agreement, but said "a number of people feel like this is the best we're going to do given the huge amount of spending and the huge number of taxes that were originally in the governor's budget."
Murray said the agreement makes a significant commitment to the university and the quality of higher education on the state.
"I think it puts the UW in a very strong position," Murray said. "We funded all the growth initiatives that each of the campuses asked for. In the end, we were only about $20 million from the governor's original budget request."
Murray added the speaker is optimistic that the budget agreement will pass today.
Josh Wescott, spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Judy Robson, D-Beloit, said the agreement was reached through a "give and take."
"We're pleased ... we were able to bring the other guys along and get them to commit to what we feel is a very important investment," Wescott said. "From our perspective, we really think this budget invests in the priorities and values of folks in the UW System."
Wescott added that, within the budget agreement, the Senate "would have liked to do some things that we weren't quite able to do, but now it's to the point of moving on."
UW System President Kevin Reilly and UW System Board of Regents President Mark Bradley issued a statement yesterday expressing their appreciation for the bipartisan leadership that led to this long-awaited budget.
"Republican and Democratic support for this plan shows that investing in higher education is a universal concern," the statement said. "Leaders from both parties are heeding the call of taxpayers who want the state to advance strategies that increase wages, create new jobs and contribute to a prosperous economy."
Giroux said focusin on the future of the UW System will benefit UW students and faculty as well as Wisconsin residents.
"If we can set aside those drastic measures and instead, focus on growing enrollments and growing economy, then I think that's good news for everybody - including students," Giroux said.
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© 2007 Badger Herald via U-WIRE