Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a potential 2016 GOP contender who never earned a college degree, has proposed a huge cut in funding for the University of Wisconsin system over the next two years.
Walker’s office pitched the plan, which is part of the governor’s budget proposal, boasting it would give the university system more discretion over its finances. But it also carries a $300 million cut and a tuition freeze for the UW system over two years. That amounts to a 13% decrease of state funding for the university system, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Campus leaders are calling the proposed cut the largest in the university system’s history.
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Walker’s budget announcement comes on the heels of the governor’s formation of a political committee that could help him raise funds ahead of a potential 2016 presidential race. Walker, who was re-elected in November and survived a recall election in 2012, also had a strong showing last weekend at Iowa Rep. Steve King’s “Freedom Summit,” which hosted a number of other potential GOP presidential contenders. The governor’s belt-tightening approach could win him points among conservatives if Walker launches a bid for the White House.
“The people of Wisconsin deserve a government that is more effective, more efficient, and more accountable, and this plan protects the taxpayers and allows for a stronger UW System in the future,” Walker said in a statement Tuesday. Walker press secretary Laurel Patrick told msnbc in an email Thursday the governor's plan provides "flexibility that the UW System has been seeking for years."
Walker garnered national attention in 2011 when he waged war against public sector unions in his state, stripping them of their right to collective bargaining. Huge protests ensued at the state capitol in Madison, but the governor ultimately came out unscathed after the unrest.
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University of Wisconsin leaders sounded a diplomatic note in public statements about the governor’s plan. Ray Cross, the president of the University of Wisconsin System, said in a statement issued Tuesday, “To get through the demanding times ahead, we know that we will be called on to make challenging and difficult decisions. It won’t be easy.” But, he added, “our new relationship with the state will allow us to leverage the System’s great resources, talent, and ideas to even better serve the people and economy of Wisconsin.”
Rebecca Blank, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, the system’s flagship campus, was more pointed. “Although we have not yet seen full details of Governor Walker’s plan, I am concerned about the magnitude of the proposed budget cuts and their impact on UW-Madison,” she said in a Tuesday statement. “... Fully absorbing these cuts would have a harmful impact on our students and their educational experience.”
Walker’s budget, including the cuts to the UW system, must be approved by the Wisconsin Legislature, where Republicans hold a majority in both the state Senate and Assembly.
Editor's note: David Taintor is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin- Eau Claire.