UW System budget request looks to future

On Thursday, the Board of Regents approved the UW System’s 2017-19 biennial budget request, which will now be submitted to Governor Walker for his review.

The System request is designed to address issues identified in the development of 2020FWD, the new strategic framework for the UW System.  In developing this framework, President Cross and other System leaders reached out to stakeholders across the state, including holding meetings here in Madison where members of the campus community as well as the broader community spoke about key challenges to the state and the role the university could play in addressing them. The 2017-19 biennial budget request identifies the needed investments from the state along with System resources that would be reallocated to begin these efforts.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s institutional goals align well with the goals set out in 2020FWD and the biennial budget request. I’m happy to support this request, and I hope you will join our efforts over the next nine months as part of the state budget process.

The budget proposal seeks a total of $42.5 million in new state funding over the next two years. In addition, the budget assumes that $50 million will be restored to UW System that we were required to lapse back to the state in the current biennium. Governor Walker has already said that he will also recommend restoring this $50 million. This would result in $92.5 million more state dollars for UW System in the next budget than in the current one.  The Regents budget request does not deal with compensation or tuition, both of which will be taken up later in the budget process.

2020FWD and the budget request focus on strengthening the educational pipeline, enhancing the educational experience of our students, expanding the Wisconsin Idea to further address the needs of Wisconsin’s communities and businesses, and pursuing greater operational efficiencies. Within these initiatives are a number of programs that are of interest to our campus.

As part of the request, funding is dedicated to educating students in Wisconsin’s most high-demand careers. This is funding that if provided would mean more graduates in areas such as nursing, engineering and computer science, areas in which we know employers have needs and we have more student demand than we can handle.

Funding is also being requested for new efforts that will produce graduates that are creative, innovative, and entrepreneurial, such as the UW Innovate program, which will reward innovation in basic and applied research, and the Idea$ program, which will connect students with the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and other organizations that translate research into economic activity. These are exciting programs that will give students valuable experience and spark the economy.

I am also pleased to see an emphasis on career initiatives; funding has been requested for campuses to bolster the capacity and infrastructure needed to foster critical career connections for UW System students and Wisconsin employers. Nearly two-thirds of our seniors last year reported having held an internship or participating in a program that gave them career experience. One of the most valuable experiences we offer our undergrads is the chance to work with top researchers at UW-Madison. Our students go into the job market not only with a world-class education but also with real world job skills.

The Regents have also requested more than $400 million in bonding authority in the capital budget, which provides funds for building construction, renovation and maintenance across the system. The capital budget proposal includes funding to renovate and expand Slichter Hall, much-needed improvements to utility infrastructure, replacement of the Walnut Street greenhouses and replacement of Lot 62. It is critical that funding for basic maintenance be provided in this budget – which it wasn’t in the last budget — that will allow us to complete needed repairs and upkeep on buildings across campus.

Another important piece of the budget request is in the area of operational flexibilities. The Board of Regents has asked for the ability to solely approve and manage UW System building projects funded entirely with non-GPR (state) funds. Currently most building projects (unless completely funded with gifts/grants) are managed by the Department of Administration. The board has also asked for revenue bonds to be issued for projects whose obligations can be fully met by program revenues. An example would be bonding for dormitory construction or renovation, where the costs are covered completely by dormitory fees.  These flexibilities would be extremely welcome because streamlining our building processes is one of the greatest opportunities we have to find operational efficiencies.

Our University Relations office has an outreach plan designed to remind citizens of the value of UW-Madison to the state, and to reach out to specific groups to help us make the case for increased higher education support in this budget. We will also be working closely with faculty and academic staff groups such as PROFS and ASPRO.

After many years of difficult budgets, it is time for Wisconsin to reinvest in higher education. I look forward to working with President Cross, members of the Board of Regents, our allies and stakeholders to make the case for new funding from the state that will allow us to provide a world-class education to our students and conduct research and innovation that benefits the people of the state of Wisconsin and beyond.

For more information on the biennial budget request, and to stay up to date on the budget process, follow our budget website at budget.wisc.edu.