Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to break off the Madison campus from the rest of the University of Wisconsin System is dead.
UW-Madison lobbyist Don Nelson said Friday that talks were proceeding with state lawmakers over what new flexibilities the Madison campus can be given to control its budget, set tuition and make other decisions. But he said Walker’s proposal that the campus endorsed to create a separate public authority is no longer an option.
“We’ve been told that pretty directly by the Senate that that’s not what they want to consider,” Nelson said.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, declined to comment through his spokesman.
Rep. Robin Vos, the Republican co-chairman of the Legislature’s budget committee, said in a statement Friday that he was confident lawmakers would find ways to give all campuses more flexibility, but there’s not enough support to break Madison off from the system.
A message left with Walker’s spokesman was not immediately returned.
“More and more legislators are less and less interested in any kind of split,” said University System spokesman David Giroux. “Legislators from around the state have heard from their local campuses that any kind of split is a bad idea.”
The two largest ongoing topics of debate are what freedoms will be granted to the campuses and how will they be implemented, and how will the governor’s proposed $250 million cut be spread out, Giroux said.
Under his budget, Madison would have taken half of it, or $125 million. UW-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin, who supported Walker’s plan, said the campus needed the autonomy he was proposing in order to deal with that cut.
The chancellors and UW President Kevin Reilly met on Thursday and agreed that if Walker’s plan to break Madison off from the System does not go forward, the Madison campus’s share of the cut should be more like 40 percent of the total and not half, Giroux said.
“What was heartening was the consensus that even after this divisive process we’ve been through, no one wants to see the UW-Madison campus punished,” Giroux said.
He characterized the ongoing talks with lawmakers as “very good.”
Nelson, the Madison campus lobbyist, said Martin had no comment.
Republicans who control the Legislature never seemed to embrace splitting Madison off from the rest of the system, especially after other campuses argued they should be given the same freedom. Vos said months ago it was highly unlikely the plan would pass as proposed.
The issue divided both the Madison campus and the university system, with other campuses and Reilly arguing against it. They and some lawmakers have argued that all 13 four-year campuses in the system should have the same autonomy that Walker proposed for Madison.
Numerous options have been floated around the Legislature, but Nelson said no one has agreed yet on which direction to go. Studying what Walker and Martin supported is one possibility, as is giving the Madison campus a separate operating board similar to the Board of Regents, he said.
The Joint Finance Committee is expected to vote on the university’s budget next week as it works to complete changes to Walker’s two-year spending plan before it’s sent to the full Legislature for consideration.
Republicans on the Legislature’s finance committee moved Thursday to slow unemployment payouts, adding a measure to the state budget that would set up a waiting period and bar drug users from collecting benefits for a year.
The measure, introduced by six Republicans on the panel, would create a one-week waiting period before an unemployed person could collect his or her first check. It also would prohibit anyone who fails or refuses to take a drug test for an employer or a prospective employer from collecting benefits for 12 months.
The panel’s co-chairman, Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said the plan is designed to help fill a $1.2 billion deficit in the state’s unemployment fund, the account that covers unemployment payments. The delay would save the state between $41 million and $56 million annually, according to state fiscal analysts.
Judge voids union law
The fight over stripping collective bargaining rights from Wisconsin’s public workers will move into the state Supreme Court, and possibly back into the Legislature, after a judge ruled Thursday to strike down the law that passed despite massive protests that paralyzed the Capitol.
Republican backers of Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal said they were confident the state Supreme Court would overturn the judge’s ruling that the law is void because lawmakers broke open meetings statutes during the approval process. She had temporarily blocked the law shortly after it passed in March.
The Supreme Court was scheduled to hear arguments in the case on June 6. Republicans who control the Legislature also could pass the measure a second time to avoid the open meeting violations.
The collective bargaining law called for public workers at all levels, from janitors at the state Capitol to local librarians, to contribute more to their pension and health care costs, resulting in savings to the state of $300 million through mid-2013. The law also strips them of their right to collectively bargain any work conditions except wages. Police and firefighters are exempt.
Lawmakers push St. Croix bridge
The four U.S. senators from Minnesota and Wisconsin have introduced legislation to move forward on a new bridge over the St. Croix River designed to ease the frequent traffic jams at the Stillwater crossing.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota led the effort to draft the bill, which she says was introduced Thursday night. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker support the project.
Klobuchar says the bill includes a package of mitigation efforts to protect and promote the scenic river by eliminating existing man-made structures, protecting river bluffs and ensuring public boat access.
Klobuchar says she has been working closely with Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn., who has introduced similar bipartisan legislation in the House.
The current river crossing is at the historic Stillwater Lift Bridge.
Schools and roads
The Wisconsin Legislature’s Republican-controlled budget committee is still trying to reach a deal on two of the biggest parts of Gov. Scott Walker’s two year spending plan – schools and roads.
The Joint Finance Committee planned to take the issues up on Thursday but instead set a previously unplanned meeting for Friday to vote on how much to cut schools and how much to increase funding for road repairs.
Walker is proposing cutting general school aids by 8.4 percent while he wants to increase funding for roads by nearly 15 percent.
Education lobbyists have been urging Walker to use some of the $636 million in new revenue to lessen the cut to schools, but the governor hasn’t committed to that.