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UW regents request $95M budget increase

MADISON, Wis. — The University of Wisconsin System’s regents on Thursday approved asking Gov. Scott Walker for $95 million in additional tax dollars in the state’s next two-year budget after system President Ray Cross assured them the money would help boost the state’s economy.

The regents approved the request unanimously during an afternoon meeting at UW-Oshkosh despite Walker’s warning to all state agencies not to expect any additional tax dollars in his 2015-17 budget. Regent John Behling asked Cross during a question-and-answer period how Cross can square the request with Walker’s message. Cross told him that he’s been meeting with legislators and the governor’s office every week on the proposal and they’ve all said they’d look at it.

“It’s important we make the case,” Cross said. “The growth of the economy is on our shoulders. I think it is an investment in the future of this state. Period.”

Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick has said the administration would review the request just as it will with requests from other agencies. She said the same thing Thursday in response to the regents’ vote.

The state’s next two-year budget will not be presented until early next year, after the November election decides whether Walker will get a second term or be replaced by Democrat Mary Burke. Regardless of who becomes governor, the Legislature will spend weeks revising the budget before the governor signs it into law.

Mike Mikalsen, a spokesman for state Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, chairman of the Assembly higher education committee, said Nass generally supports the request.

Cross wants the extra money to fund a multi-pronged project dubbed the Talent Development Initiative.

One segment calls for spending another $22.5 million on grants for UW programs designed to grow businesses and help faculty and student entrepreneurs.

Another component would use $15.4 million to increase the number of high school students taking college courses early for credit and cover rising enrollment in the Flex Option program, which allows adult students to earn credits by demonstrating real-life experience.

A third prong calls for $30 million in grants for recruiting more students into high-demand fields and retaining faculty in those fields.

The last segment calls for using $27 million to offset the effects of a tuition freeze Republicans imposed last year after they learned system institutions had built huge surpluses while raising tuition year after year. Walker has called for extending the freeze in the next budget. System officials say the freeze has forced them to spend down their surpluses and they need the extra money to cover faculty compensation and benefits.

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