Gov. Scott Walker acknowledged Monday that his administration is considering granting more autonomy to the University of Wisconsin System.
But he emphasized that no final decisions have been made and details won’t be released until he introduces his 2015-17 spending plan on Feb. 3.
“The bottom line is that they’ve said for many, many years, long before I was governor, that when you look at things like purchasing, procurement, building and other things like that, that they would be able to get more bang for their buck if they had greater control,” Walker said. “The question is how far do you go with that? And that’s what we’re still working on.”
The State Journal first reported Saturday that Walker was considering granting more autonomy and reducing legislative financial oversight, with a possible tradeoff being a reduction in state funding. Walker’s office last week declined to confirm or deny the discussions, but he hinted at them in separate comments last week to the State Building Commission.
UW System president Ray Cross said in an interview Monday that while budget details are still being worked out by the governor’s office, he’s hoping the System will win some more flexibility in how it operates.
“If you look at our request for $95 million (in additional state funding), the Board (of Regents) also instructed us to pursue maximum flexibility in particular in procurement and capital bonding,” he said.
When asked about whether that flexibility would mean decoupling the universities from the state and running them under a “public authority” model, Cross said that a public authority is one option but there are others, such as exempting the universities from certain state laws.
He said it’s key that, whatever additional flexibility is granted, that the state maintains ways to hold the universities accountable.
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“We are a public university,” he said.
He also said he wants Madison to remain in the 26-campus fold, and that he would oppose any effort to remove it from the System.
“I would not be in favor of any separation of an individual institution, be it Madison or otherwise,” he said.
With the state facing a $2.2 billion budget deficit, more flexibility for the System could be accompanied by reduced state aid.
In 2011, Walker proposed splitting UW-Madison from the System in his first budget cycle as governor, when the System saw its funding cut by $250 million.
Then-chancellor Biddy Martin and Walker said it made fiscal sense to split the state’s flagship campus from the other 25 schools in the System, arguing the university needed the new structure in the face of declining state aid.
Walker included the change in the state budget, but lawmakers removed it after an outcry from UW System leaders. The entire System stayed together and in years since gained some administrative flexibility called for by chancellors.
Martin left UW-Madison soon afterward.