Director of religious school group named UW-Madison lobbyist

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The director of a group that advocates for religious and private schools was named Thursday as the new lobbyist for the University of Wisconsin-Madison at a salary 14 percent higher than his predecessor's.

The hiring of Matt Kussow as director of state government relations at UW-Madison is the latest recent addition at the university system of people with Republican ties. The Legislature has been under Republican control for four years and the GOP increased its majority following the November election in which Gov. Scott Walker was elected to a second term.

The UW-Madison lobbyist works closely with legislative leaders to influence their votes on decisions affecting the university. The university is seeking $95 million in additional tax dollars over the next two years, which may be hard to get with the state facing a $2.2 billion budget shortfall.

Walker has already said he wants to extend a two-year tuition freeze at the university, making its finances even tighter. And Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has also talked about examining whether professors are teaching enough classes and the merits of tenure.

Kussow worked for Republicans in the state Assembly for 15 years before working the past seven for the Wisconsin Council of Religious and Independent Schools. That group has lobbied strongly to expand the statewide voucher program, under which taxpayer-funded subsidies are made available to help pay for a private school education.

"I'm excited to bring my skill set and knowledge of the legislative process to UW-Madison," Kussow said in a statement.

Charles Hoslet, associate vice chancellor for government and corporate affairs, said in a statement that he was pleased to "bring someone of Matt's caliber on board."

"His experience will be welcome as we work with policymakers on the upcoming state budget and related legislative issues that impact the campus," Hoslet said.

Kussow's hiring comes after the UW System in April hired Walker confidant Jim Villa as a vice president of university relations to oversee the systems lobbying and public relations efforts. UW President Ray Cross, who began his job a year ago, has been trying to bolster relations with Republicans after several run-ins with the previous administration over how UW manages its finances.

"That the state's flagship public university continues to hire more administrators so closely tied to Gov. Walker's anti-public education agenda just shows how bad things have gotten under one-party Republican rule here," said Scot Ross, director of the liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now.

Kussow will be paid $106,000 per year, starting in January. That salary is 14 percent higher than the $92,959 made by his predecessor, Don Nelson.

Nelson left the job in September to become chief of staff for the vice provost for information technology at UW-Madison. He is being paid $115,000 in his new job.


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