Scott Walker 1-10-12-10.jpg
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

After Gov. Scott Walker released the outline of his proposed budget repair bill  on Friday, many working across UW-Madison were surprisingly quiet when contacted by a reporter seeking comment.

"I think I better let this sink in over the weekend before saying anything," one campus leader confided.

After sleeping on it for a night or two, some now are willing to share their thoughts.

"Governor Walker may have opened the state for business, but he proposes to shut the door on state workers and open the gate to a brain drain from the university," Judith Burstyn e-mailed Sunday afternoon. Burstyn, a chemistry professor, is chair of the University Committee, the executive committee of UW-Madison's Faculty Senate.

No doubt many are thinking about the potential ramifications. After all, this bill would eat into the take-home pay of virtually every state worker -- including those who are employed across the University of Wisconsin System.

Among other things, Walker's proposal would require most state workers to contribute 5.8 percent of their salary toward pension payments and to double the amount they contribute toward health insurance.

The bill also would repeal the authority of UW System faculty and staff to bargain collectively. Although faculty on a handful of UW System campuses have voted to unionize over the past year, this measure won't have an effect on the UW-Madison campus because faculty and academic staff here are not unionized.

However, graduate teaching assistants and most classified staff at UW-Madison are unionized, and it appears their collective bargaining powers will be slashed. Walker's proposal would also repeal collective bargaining for employees of the UW Hospital and Clinics.

The governor's budget repair bill also could lead to the sale of the state's power plants -- including the Charter Street plant, which is in the middle of a massive renovation and serves the UW-Madison campus.

A university spokesperson said Friday that UW-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin would have no comment on Walker's proposal, noting that the UW System put out a letter reacting to the budget repair bill.

Another person who did respond to a message seeking comment was Jack O'Meara, the legislative representative for PROFS, a voluntary, non-profit organization that advocates for UW-Madison faculty. He notes he's worried the governor's proposal could hurt the university's ability to retain and recruit top talent.

"Faculty salaries are already more than 10 percent behind our peers across-the-board," O'Meara said Saturday. "An additional cut of 8 percent or so in take-home pay will just make matters worse. Existing faculty and prospective faculty are keenly aware of the benefits provided at various universities. They will take note of this change. Faculty are also very concerned about the impact cuts will have on staff of the university, who are already paid less than comparable workers in the private sector."

Meanwhile, some UW-Madison students are spreading the word via Facebook about plans to deliver thousands of Valentine Day cards to Walker's office on Monday asking him to back down from his attacks on public workers and the UW community. By 1 p.m. Sunday, more than 1,600 already indicated on Facebook they planned to attend.

The cards read: "We (heart) UW. Governor Walker, don't break our (hearts)."

A press release announcing this event notes "UW students are organizing to ensure access to affordable, quality public education for all Wisconsinites." The event is being organized by UW-Madison's Teaching Assistants' Association, and student activists Beth Huang, a sophomore studying biochemistry, and Peter Rickman, a graduate student studying law and public affairs.

In addition, a range of individuals and groups from across the UW-Madison campus have indicated they plan to attend rallies at the Capitol on Tuesday and Wednesday.

On Friday, UW System President Kevin Reilly and Charles Pruitt, the president of the UW System's Board of Regents, sent a message to all faculty and staff regarding Walker's proposal shortly after it was made public.

The letter from Reilly and Pruitt states: "We have asked you to teach record numbers of students. You've done it. We have asked you to help more of those students remain in school and graduate on time. You've done it. In every instance, you've stepped up to the challenges, all the while receiving reduced salaries, due to mandatory state furloughs."

If there is any good news in Walker's proposal, it's that he apparently won't ask state workers to take any furlough days in the upcoming 2011-13 biennium. State workers were forced to take 16 unpaid days off over the 2009-11 biennium, which ends June 30.

But ...

"Increased payments for health insurance and retirement will likely have an even larger effect on most of our UW employees," write Reilly and Pruitt.

The governor says these changes, and others, are needed to meet a $137 million budget shortfall this year and a projected $3.6 billion hole for the 2011-13 biennium.

Reilly and Pruitt continue: "These reductions may be justified by the historic economic downturn, but that does not change the fact that UW campuses entered this recession in a trailing position, unable to offer total compensation packages comparable to our peer universities."

They close by writing that if state funding for the university system is going to be slashed, the UW needs greater freedoms and flexibilities from state oversight to use its resources in the most efficient and effective ways possible.

Similarly, at Friday's Board of Regents meeting officials released a Feb. 8 letter Reilly sent to Walker stressing the needs for these flexibilities and outlining the statutory changes that would be needed to "help all UW institutions sustain a high level of service to Wisconsin citizens."

Much of what the UW System is asking for mirrors Chancellor Martin's New Badger Partnership proposal.

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