Tuition would remain frozen for in-state undergrads over the next two years at University of Wisconsin System schools under a provision the Legislature’s budget committee approved Tuesday.
But members of the Joint Finance Committee decided not to green-light Gov. Tony Evers’ plan to compensate campuses for the lost revenue by covering the cost of the ongoing freeze with $50.4 million in general purpose revenue.
UW System President Ray Cross slammed the vote, telling reporters "I feel like I've been kicked in the shins."
Cross said he had been told up until last week Thursday that the system's budget ask was reasonable, adding he was shocked by the committee's action.
"The Legislature missed an opportunity to meet the future needs of this state," he said. "I just can't get over that. This was a great opportunity for them. We are the solution for a lot of the problems the state has."
The committee voted 12-4 along party lines on the UW System funding plan over protests from Democrats, who argued the state should back fill the costs of holding tuition steady.
"If you're going to freeze tuition, let's fund it," said Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton. "We've asked the system to bear a lot over the last eight years and they've done so. Now it's our turn to step up."
The freeze first began under then-Gov. Scott Walker in the 2013-14 school year following outrage over the system’s cash reserves.
Evers and committee Democrats looked to allocate $45 million in the next two years for student success and attainment and $10 million to create a new nurse educators program to help combat the state’s nursing shortage, in addition to creating an environmental education program at UW-Stevens Point covered by $500,000 in conservation fund dollars, among other things.
Republicans opted to reject those provisions. Instead, the key part of their plan would include setting aside $45 million in funding for the UW System over the next two years for any purpose the system wants.
In order to get the money, system officials would need to submit a proposal to the Joint Finance Committee for approval, before the funding would be transferred to the UW -- a measure some Republicans likened to a grant program, although Democrats slammed it as "parental."
Committee co-chair Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, said the language would give the system "as much flexibility as possible with a certain amount of accountability."
In all, the plan the committee approved today would allocate nearly $70 million less in state funds to the UW System over the biennium than Evers proposed.