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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The University of Wisconsin System will be given more autonomy, while having its state funding slashed by 13 percent over the next two years, under the budget Gov. Scott Walker will submit to the Legislature next week, the governor told The Associated Press in an exclusive interview on Monday.
Walker released details of his budget plan as it affects the UW System to the AP ahead of a public announcement on Tuesday.
"It will make the University of Wisconsin more efficient, more effective and ultimately more accountable," Walker told AP.
Rumors have been running rampant for weeks about how Walker would handle the UW System in light of the state's looming $2 billion budget shortfall.
UW had asked for an increase in funding of $95 million over the next two years — money that it argued was needed given that Walker was calling for another two-year tuition freeze. Walker is going forward with the tuition freeze, but is calling for the $300 million cut in exchange for something university leaders have wanted for years: more independence.
UW President Ray Cross said he supported the structural changes, but he would work to reduce the budget cut.
"It's going to be a very significant challenge," he said of the cuts. "It's not something we look forward to."
Walker is proposing turning the 13 four-year campuses and 13 two-year colleges that comprise the UW System into a public authority, a structure that would give the university more flexibility over a wide array of issues that are currently mandated by state law.
Future funding from the state would come in the form of a block grant funded by sales tax revenue, with annual increases tied to the rate of inflation. Doing that will give the university more certainty in funding, while also providing it with "full flexibility in use of state resources," Walker's office said.
Cross said he supported that change.
A similar idea floated by Walker in 2011, which would have broken Madison off from the UW System, died under bipartisan opposition and pushback from other UW campuses. Madison would remain a part of the UW System under the latest proposal, which would grant the entire system more autonomy rather than just the flagship campus.
Walker said "instead of nibbling around the edges," he determined the best approach was to make the change for the whole system.
"I just think it's really, really important we give them this opportunity," Walker said.
University officials, along with both Democrats and Republicans, have been wary, voicing concerns before Walker released details of his plan.
Under Walker's proposal this year, the Legislature would have no ability to stop the university from raising tuition as much as it wants starting in 2017. Prior to the most recent two-year tuition freeze, tuition had gone up 5.5 percent each of the previous six years. That was the most allowed by a law that would no longer be in effect under Walker's plan.
Walker said he thought competition from other universities would keep future tuition increases at UW in check.
The university would also have complete control over setting employee salaries and other employee issues including tenure, shared governance, sick leave, procurement contracts and construction projects.
In the most recent budget, UW accounted for more than 7 percent of total general fund support. That was third-highest behind only K-12 aids and money for Medicaid and other medical assistance programs.
The proposed $300 million cut comes after Walker and the Legislature cut UW funding by $250 million in 2011.
Walker said he was open to negotiating the level of cut with the Legislature.
Walker's budget proposal will be submitted to the Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans, on Feb. 3.
The proposal comes as Walker ramps up his consideration of a 2016 presidential run. He's said repeatedly that he can't run a successful presidential campaign if things aren't going well in Wisconsin.
Democratic critics have repeatedly pointed to the $2 billion projected budget shortfall as evidence that Walker's failed the state.
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