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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker's proposal to give the University of Wisconsin System more independence from state law and oversight won't pass this year, while other flexibilities and the level of funding for higher education remain up for debate, co-chairs of the Legislature's powerful Joint Finance Committee said Tuesday.
Walker's proposal to give UW more autonomy while at the same time cutting its budget by $300 million over the next two years elicited bipartisan opposition ever since he unveiled it in February. Republicans who control the Legislature for weeks have said the independence piece, which they feared would open the door to massive tuition hikes and not enough oversight, was unlikely to proceed.
There was just not enough time to seriously consider the change this year, said Rep. John Nygren, a Marinette Republican and co-chair of the Legislature's budget committee.
"We're looking for a little bit more thoughtful process to make that change," Nygren said.
Even so, giving UW some flexibility from state oversight and law so it can save money on such things as procurement remains in play, he said. Those changes will be debated by the budget committee later this month, Nygren said.
The Joint Finance Committee hopes to finish making changes to Walker's budget proposal, including how much to give UW and other changes in operation, by the end of May. From there, the budget must clear the Senate and Assembly before being sent back to Walker for his consideration. That is expected to be done in June.
Walker, a likely presidential candidate, has said he will announce his decision on running for the White House once the budget is passed.
The UW budget cut is one of the most controversial in Walker's budget. He also called for freezing tuition for two years and limiting future increases to no more than the rate of inflation.
Walker said the $300 million cut could be addressed through greater efficiencies and other cost-saving moves the university could make if it were cut free from state laws and allowed to operate under a new model known as a public authority.
Walker will continue to work with the Legislature to provide additional flexibility to UW, while also ensuring that the tuition freeze remains for two more years, his spokeswoman, Laurel Patrick, said. She did not specify what flexibilities he would support. Walker has previously said he would be in favor of lowering his $300 million cut.
University leaders for years have pushed for such independence, but they fought back hard against the budget cut. The reduction would be about 13 percent of UW's state funding, but just 2.5 percent of its total budget.
Campuses have been announcing job cuts and other moves to deal with the potential reduction while lawmakers continue to debate whether to keep it at $300 million or lower it. Nygren and committee co-chair Sen. Alberta Darling, a Republican from River Hills, reiterated on Tuesday that they were committed to reducing the cut.
But they didn't say what level of cut they are contemplating. The key factor in that will be how much additional tax revenue the state will have to spend above previous projections. Those new numbers were expected to be released any day.
The top priority for any new tax revenue is filling a $127 million cut in K-12 public schools, Nygren and Darling said, with UW and funding for roads next in line.
University of Wisconsin President Ray Cross, who has been negotiating with lawmakers over Walker's budget proposal, appreciates the willingness of lawmakers to work on reducing the cut and providing other flexibilities, his spokesman, Alex Hummel, said.
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