Government Relations

Testimony on Pending Legislation: Assembly Joint Resolution 77 and Senate Joint Resolution 63

Before Assembly Committee on Ways and Means & Senate Select Committee on Taxpayers Protection Amendment
April 5, 2006
Testimony of David Walsh
Board of Regent President
University of Wisconsin System

Thank you Senator Grothman for this opportunity to address your Joint Committee. Joining me today are two chancellors representing different regions of the state. I will share some general and statewide perspective. Then Chancellor Wells representing UW-Oshkosh and Chancellor Hastad representing UW-La Crosse can provide a campus perspective on the likely impact of the Taxpayer Protection Amendment on their regions.

We recognize that there will always be different points of view about the proposed amendment. However, to be clear our message is simple. Don’t do this. Don’t do this because it is bad government and it will so damage your University of Wisconsin System that it will never again be the System so many residents of this state are proud of.

It is bad government because it denies our elected representatives important powers and flexibility to make intelligent and creative decisions in the best interest of the state. This legislature has much to be proud of. You were the first to create a Social Security Program. You introduced Workmen’s Compensation to the country and recently under Governor Thompson you established innovative and creative social programs such as W2. This amendment will deny you the flexibility and power you need to continue that fine tradition. The Board of Regents appreciated Senator Grothman’s candor when he said “I do not trust the legislature to make tough decisions.” Candor yes, logical no. As elected representatives, you alone should make the tough decisions. Do not take from yourselves the power to move this state forward in difficult times. Do not abdicate your responsibilities to government by referendum. That is bad government.

Moreover, this constitutional amendment will be disastrous to the University of Wisconsin Higher Educational System. One analysis by our UW System Budget Office indicates that assuming an inflationary 3.1% factor, tuition will have to increase another 11.25% or enrollment shall be reduced by the equivalent of about 12,000 students next biennium to make up for GPR funding shortfalls. Let me remind you that the University of Wisconsin System was cut by 8.1% in the 2003-2005 biennium and the 2005-2007 biennial budget increased by less than 1%. These budgets, which do not cover inflationary costs, much less the cost to do just what was provided the year before, have meant significant operational cuts. For example, state supported positions have been cut more than 850 FTE since the 2003-2005 biennium. Reduced funding has also had an impact on educational quality as faculty are replaced with less expensive academic teaching staff, class sizes have increased and the number of sections offered has decreased. Just as important and as serious, UW institutions have not been successful in many first choices in faculty searches and as reported recently by the newspapers, significant members of our faculty are simply leaving and taking substantial research grants with them.

The System has responded to budget and enrollment pressures over the last five years. It has made difficult compromises, reduced non-classroom positions and realigned existing resources. The System has fewer state tax supported positions than when Tommy Thompson was Governor in 1990. Administrative positions alone have been cut by 200 FTE in the last year.

Yes, the System has taken its fair share of financial hits over the last four years. Yet, there is no assurance that if this Amendment passes any of those funds will be made up. And, if they are not or if in the best case, we continue to receive our pro rata share of GPR, tuition will increase and enrollment cuts will be established. This is not in the best interest of the state of Wisconsin and particularly those families that are looking forward to the opportunities of higher education for their children.

Earlier this week, I attended a press conference where John and Tashia Morgridge gave the University of Wisconsin-Madison the largest individual gift in its history - $50 million. John Morgridge is the Chairman of the Board and former CEO of the Fortune 500 company Cisco Systems with a market capitalization in excess of $100 billion. John and Tashia grew up in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin and together attended the University of Wisconsin. Their commitment, loyalty and love of Wisconsin is remarkable. I want to take the liberty of quoting from John’s comments because they are so appropriate as you consider this amendment today. After commenting on the excellence of the University System and their pride and love for the state of Wisconsin, he stated “we have to continue to innovate. We will only remain excellent if we continue to invest and we hope that this project will ensure our competitiveness in the years to come. There is no world-class private institute currently in the center of this country. In the future, we want them to think of the University of Wisconsin. We have been struck by the fact that the outstanding work we do here at UW-Madison is eclipsed by research that is occurring on the coasts. Great science is occurring in the Midwest and it is time people know.” And as Tashia said “great minds rubbing against each other will create sparks that will benefit students, the University, the state and humankind. We are proud to be alumni of this great University. We feel it is very important to contribute not only our money but our time to help this University remain a vital innovative institution.”

The Morgridge’s contribution is a cause for celebration. However, passing this constitutional amendment will send a message to others interested in doing the same that this state cannot and will not further invest in this great University. The result will be higher tuition, denial of access, lower enrollment and an unwillingness of others like the Morgridges to invest in our future. Please don’t pass this amendment.