Budget panel to reject Gov. Walkers tuition cut, maintain freeze

MADISON -- The Legislature's budget-writing committee plans to reject Gov. Scott Walker's proposed University of Wisconsin System tuition cut and will instead keep rates frozen for another two years, its Republican co-chairs said Thursday, May 25th.

The committee also planned to reduce the funding increase Walker proposed for UW by about $6 million.

Walker tried to cast the defeat on the tuition cut as a win, saying that continuing the freeze would be a "great victory." But the changes led one Republican, Sen. Steve Nass, to say he's going to vote against the budget as it currently stands.

"To me I would love to have a reduction, it's what I proposed," Walker said of the tuition cut. "But having a freeze over the next two years would be a great victory. ... Not for me, but most importantly for the students and families in the state who are paying for higher education."

Nass, who voted against Walker's budget in 2013, would vote against this one "depending on how other key pieces are resolved," said his spokesman Mike Mikalsen. Republicans can lose three votes in the Senate and still have enough to pass it.

The budget committee is working to revise Walker's two-year spending plan before forwarding it on to the full Senate and Assembly for passage later this summer. The committee's actions are crucial, as neither chamber typically makes significant changes to the budget once it reaches them.

Tuition at UW has been frozen for in-state undergraduates for four years. Walker's budget calls for extending the freeze through 2017-18 and reducing tuition by 5 percent in 2018-19.

The governor's budget would give the system $35 million to backfill the revenue lost from the tuition cut. Instead, the budget committee planned to approve $26.3 million in performance-based aid, with another $5 million for high-demand programs. Walker had asked for $42.5 million in additional funding for UW, with all of it tied to hitting performance targets.

Nass, who doesn't sit on the committee but is one of the most outspoken critics of UW in the Legislature, said in an email that the committee is failing middle class families by refusing to cut tuition.

The tuition cut issue is one of several areas where Walker and Republicans disagree. Walker held a news conference at the highways 10/441 expansion and reconstruction project in Neenah to stress the urgent need to reach a road-funding agreement before the current budget year ends on June 30. He and Republican legislative leaders are at odds over the best plan.

"Our message is simple: Get it done," Walker said.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling rejected Walker's call for action.

"Gov. Walker has had six years to 'get it done,'" she said on Twitter. "Instead of delivering a long-term funding solution, he chose more tax breaks for the rich."

Road funding is proving to be the most vexing problem standing in the way of Walker and Republicans from passing a budget on time.

The Republican governor wants to delay some major road projects while borrowing $500 million. Republicans who control the Senate and Assembly don't want to borrow that much but are hung up on alternatives. Walker reiterated his opposition to raising gas taxes or vehicle registration fees like Assembly Republicans are pushing, which would essentially have those who use the roads pay to improve them, but he's been open to other suggestions.

Walker also repeated his opposition to breaking off transportation funding from the rest of the state budget, which could delay reaching a deal for months.

Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke pushed back against Walker's call, saying the governor and Senate Republicans need to come forward with "long-term solution" for road-funding that borrows less money.