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Chancellor's Blog: Governor's bold budget proposal offers vital support

| James Schmidt

Gov. Tony Evers virtually delivered his biennial budget message Tuesday night, starting the state of Wisconsin’s 2021-23 budget debate. I’m pleased to report the governor’s budget proposal makes ambitious investments in the UW System and, while we have a long way to go before the next budget is signed into law, many of the initiatives are well-positioned to receive bipartisan support.

My sincere thanks to Gov. Evers for laying out this vision for UW System investment that aligns our mission with the state’s most pressing needs. His executive budget proposes investment in high-impact strategies to support students from underrepresented populations, retention of stellar faculty and staff and maximizing the UW System’s statewide benefit. It’s clear that the governor shares our view of the university as an engine for economic growth and community resilience that provides an incredible return on the state’s investment.

Over the next two-year budget, Gov. Evers is proposing a $191 million increase to the UW System’s state appropriation — this would be the largest increase in state funding in the past two decades. In addition, the governor supported a 2% system-wide pay raise in each year of the biennium, with effective dates of January 2022 and January 2023.

The governor’s proposed investment varies from unrestricted funds that subsidize extending the tuition freeze through the 2022-23 academic year to funds for new initiatives. One new proposal is a $39 million expansion of Bucky’s Tuition Promise, which provides four years of free tuition for students whose families make less than $60,000 per year, beyond UW-Madison to all UW institutions. Gov. Evers also proposed $9 million for the UW System Freshwater Collaborative, $5 million for prison education, and $5 million to address the current and impending shortages of nurse educators.

In addition to these long-term investments, I was pleased the governor advanced specific initiatives to help us support students as they recover from the pandemic. These include giving the UW System borrowing authority to offset short-term operational losses, and a crucial $10 million initiative to fund additional and improved student behavioral health services.

For news coverage of the budget message and reactions to the governor’s proposal, see this UW System-focused piece from the Wisconsin State Journal and this budget overview piece from Wisconsin Public Radio. For more information on the 2021-23 executive budget, you can view the official “Budget in Brief” document (search “UW” to find relevant excerpts) or find the UW System's detailed budget recommendation here.

This is only the first part of the governor’s budget proposal. The governor’s capital budget proposal, which seeks funding for state construction and maintenance projects, likely will be released in the next few weeks.

The legislature’s budget debate begins in earnest in March, and numerous steps remain before the budget comes back to the governor for approval (usually in late June). For more detailed information on this process, see the non-partisan Wisconsin Budget Project’s overview and linked resources here. For university-specific budget questions, you can contact Jake Wrasse, UW-Eau Claire’s legislative liaison, at jwrasse@uwec.edu.

I will keep you updated as the biennial budget debate continues. I will continue supporting budget initiatives that strengthen UW-Eau Claire, UWEC–Barron County, our Marshfield nursing campus, and northwestern Wisconsin as we build back from COVID-19 together.