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US: Wisconsin budget committee approves $123M in cuts

 

The Legislature’s budget-writing committee approved slashing about $123 million across state government on Wednesday, with more than a third of those cuts falling to the University of Wisconsin System.

The $46 million cut to the university is on top of $250 million in budget cuts the system took in the two-year budget passed last year.

All of the new cuts, including those for the university, must be absorbed by July. The total amount of the cuts had been approved in the two-year budget passed by the Republican-controlled Legislature last year, but how those cuts would be distributed wasn’t detailed by Gov. Scott Walker’s administration until December.

The Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee approved the cuts on a party-line vote despite concerns raised by Democrats and the university about the detrimental effect the additional reductions would have. Democrats on the budget committee railed against the cuts, saying they were made necessary because of Republicans’ poor budget decisions. Democratic Sen. Bob Jauch said the university was being made a “sacrificial lamb” in the budget.

Republicans said the cuts were difficult but necessary and done in areas where layoffs could be minimized. Walker’s administration exempted numerous agencies and programs from cuts, including public school aid, higher educational financial aid and technical college aid, as well as around-the-clock state operations within the Department of Health Services and Corrections.

After the university system, the next largest cut, at $18.5 million, came to the Department of Health Services. The third highest was $9.4 million at the Department of Corrections. For some agencies, the cuts were slated to come out of general operations. But for others, specific programs were targeted.

Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch said in a letter to lawmakers that state agencies would be able to deal with the reductions by holding vacant jobs open, reducing grants and cutting supplies and services or through other operational savings.

The university’s cuts would be distributed throughout the system, with the flagship Madison campus taking the biggest reduction at $17.3 million. The Milwaukee campus would see a $6.2 million reduction, followed by Eau Claire at $2.3 million and Oshkosh at $2.2 million.

University of Wisconsin spokesman David Giroux said the cut continues a decades-long shift that places a heavier financial burden on students and families. Campuses will likely leave vacancies open, which would result in fewer people to teach classes and serve students, he said. They are also canceling new initiatives, reallocating resources and making other cost-cutting moves, Giroux said.

“Each chancellor will have tough choices to make,” Giroux said. “There is not `one’ solution to the problem.”

University students held a news conference before the meeting to urge members of the Joint Finance Committee not to pass the additional cuts and to talk with them to find a compromise. Tiffany Strong, a 24-year-old junior at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said students felt they were being ignored and silenced.

Minutes later, Strong and three others were taken away by police after they sat on the floor in front of committee members as they discussed the cuts. They were asked to leave and did so voluntarily, so no citations were issued, said Jocelyn Webster, spokeswoman for the state Department of Administration. Even with the additional cuts approved Wednesday, the state budget still faces a $143 million shortfall by the middle of 2013.

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