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University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross

University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross said lawmakers appear to be supportive of increasing pay for System workers.

Institutions around the University of Wisconsin System are being held back by outdated facilities and low employee pay, according to campus leaders, who made their pitch Friday for lawmakers to chip in more state funding to remedy those problems.

The chancellors of several UW campuses, along with System President Ray Cross, asked legislators during a meeting of the Board of Regents at UW-Milwaukee to increase funding for building maintenance and construction in the 2017-19 budget, and to provide $78 million to boost compensation for workers.

Those costs have been sore points for UW officials in a budget they have mostly praised otherwise because it increases operating funding for the System by $36.2 million.

While System officials requested $794.5 million worth of capital funding for renovations and new construction at UW campuses, Gov. Scott Walker’s capital budget proposal would provide just $128.3 million.

The co-chairpersons of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee said last month that they planned to provide $29.6 million for UW pay raises, less than half of what the System requested. That request would have increased the System’s compensation budget by 2 percent in each year of the budget, and give chancellors discretion over how to distribute the new funding on their campuses.

Cross said officials are confident legislators will support increasing pay for UW workers — a “strong sign” for employees — but added they “don’t yet know how much that increase might be, and whether it will be fully funded.”

“Compensation is our top priority,” Cross said.

Employee pay and capital funding are typically taken up later in the state budget process.

Employees leaving

Chancellors from UW’s River Falls, Eau Claire, Parkside and other campuses recounted stories for the Regents on Friday of employees who left for large pay increases at other universities, and deteriorating buildings that pale in comparison to the new facilities other institutions offer.

“We want to pay and reward our faculty and staff,” said Cathy Sandeen, chancellor of UW Colleges and Extension. But she added that her institutions would risk a structural deficit if they provided those raises without enough state funding.

UW-Platteville Chancellor Dennis Shields said he was glad members of the Joint Finance Committee could see for themselves the maintenance needs on his campus when they visited for a public hearing in April.

The System requested $55.2 million for a new engineering hall and $23.8 million to renovate a science building at UW-Platteville; Walker’s budget did not provide funding for either project.

“We are getting a favorable reception,” Shields said, which he hopes translates into new funding.

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Nico Savidge is the higher education reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.