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Chancellor’s Blog: End-of-semester budget update

| Chancellor James Schmidt

With commencement and final exams heralding the start of summer, I wanted to write with a brief update on the 2019-21 state budget.

Budget progress

As I’ve mentioned in my previous posts, this year’s process is projected to finish by August 1 — not the typical July 1 deadline — to allow Governor Evers’ administration an additional month to put together their first budget. While there is some news to share now, I expect to have a few more updates to share with you as the process continues this summer.

First, the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee is in the process of voting on significant fiscal items proposed in Governor Evers’ executive budget (see a summary of that budget). The JFC is expected to finish their work in the next few weeks, at which time the Assembly and Senate will each work to pass their own version of the JFC budget, which then returns to the governor for vetoes and/or his signature. While Wisconsin’s divided government is still finding its footing, I am optimistic our representatives can find common ground on the UW System’s budget.

Pay plan investment in faculty and staff

The JFC did vote this week to recommend 2% pay increases for UW System employees in each year of the biennium. The increases would go into effect Jan. 1, 2020, and Jan. 1, 2021, if that measure is approved by the full Legislature later this summer. This is positive news for UW-Eau Claire, because we know that investing in exceptional faculty and staff benefits our students, our university and our state. In fact, it’s the first priority of our 2020 strategic plan. While the UW System operating budget — which would provide funding to campuses to build strength in high-demand programs — and capital budget — which includes $109 million for our Science and Health Sciences Building — have not yet been voted on, the JFC should consider them in the next two weeks.

Advocating for our Science and Health Sciences Building

Though no official vote has been taken on our Science and Health Sciences Building, I have heard from countless members of the Legislature that we’ve done a good job informing people of the need for our project. The incredible support of our business community, students and local elected officials have helped our push to replace Phillips Hall gain momentum. While this year’s budget process is atypical, we are in an excellent position because of the significant advocacy of the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce, UW-Eau Claire Student Senate and the local governments, economic development corporations and businesses that articulated the importance of this project to officials in Madison.

I also want to thank Jake Wrasse, who joined our university relations team a year ago on a project appointment to help us during this state budget cycle. Jake has represented UW-Eau Claire at Joint Finance Committee hearings across the state and in the Capitol, and he’s been such a tireless advocate for us that one JFC member told me, “We see Jake so often we think he’s a member of the committee!”

I extend a big thank you as well to all the faculty and staff in Phillips Hall who have assisted us this past year as we worked with our business community and elected officials to build support for the new Science and Health Sciences Building. Whether you helped us begin analyzing our needs for the new building, shared your stories about the shortcomings of the current building or accommodated a passing tour of elected officials while you were working with students, thank you. The incredible accomplishments of our students and employees in Phillips Hall have helped us demonstrate why UW-Eau Claire is worthy of this state investment.

Some students, faculty and staff who work in Phillips Hall have asked me how to contact legislators about their personal and professional experiences with the building, or to provide feedback on other elements of the UW System budget. While there are significant restrictions on using state resources — like university e-mail addresses, letterhead or work time — to influence the Legislature, all employees are able to provide feedback to their state representatives using their personal e-mail addresses. To find your representatives’ contact information, use the “Find Your Legislator” function of the Legislature’s website.

I’ll keep you posted as we learn more.