UPDATE: Sen. Fitzgerald says lawmakers feel "even less of a commitment" to restore $300 million UW System cut
MADISON (WKOW) -- Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) made it clear to 27 News Thursday that it is very unlikely the state legislature will go out of its way to restore much of the $300 million cut to the UW System proposed in Gov. Scott Walker's 2015-17 state budget.
Sen. Fitzgerald's comments come one day after Gov. Walker said revenue projections that will be released May 4th are not as optimistic as many thought they would be.
"I think with the out-of-state and the graduate student tuition increases that the Regents implemented there probably seems to be even less of a commitment to backfill that," said Sen. Fitzgerald.
Both Gov. Walker and Sen. Fitzgerald made it clear that any revenue increases would first be used to restore $127 million in cuts proposed for K-12 public education in the 2015-16 school year. Sen. Fitzgerald said if there is any extra revenue left over, there are a few things he would look to do to restore more funding to the Department of Transportation in order to reduce the amount of borrowing requested for road construction projects.
Only after those areas are addressed would lawmakers look to restore any of the proposed UW cuts, according to Sen. Fitzgerald.
Democratic lawmakers told 27 News they're shocked by Sen. Fitzgerald's comments, claiming he needs to reexamine his priorities.
"If I was making this budget I would not be providing tax cuts to corporations and sending my tax dollars or other hard-working tax dollars into private industry," said Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison). "I would be investing in the people and I would be investing in the University."
But raising taxes of any kind is a non-starter for Republicans. Sen. Fitzgerald thinks people have to look at the UW cut in context, saying the System had a huge surplus less than two years ago.
"I think because of that there are some legislators who still have kind of a bitter taste in their mouth about what do the UW's finances look like and how solvent are they right now," said Sen. Fitzgerald.
But Kit Beyer, a spokesperson for Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), said Assembly Republicans still hope to reduce the UW System cut despite the modest revenue expectations. Beyer did not indicate the amount Speaker Vos hoped to see restored.
UW-Madison officials declined to address Sen. Fitzgerald's comments Thursday. But the head of PROFS, a faculty group, told 27 News it feels like the UW is being pushed off a cliff without a parachute.
"I wonder how many private sector business leaders would see this as a responsible way to manage such a large and complex organization, especially one that generates more tax revenue for the state than it gets back from the state," said Professor Grant Petty, president of PROFS.
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