Month: April 2014

Federal Judge Strikes Down Voter ID Law

United States District Judge Lynn Adelman struck down Wisconsin’s voter ID law (2011 Wisconsin Act 23) today, saying the law places an undue burden on minorities and the poor and violates the Voting Rights Act.

Adelman’s ruling bars enforcement of the law, which was also found unconstitutional by a Dane County judge. That decision was overturned last year and ultimately appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Members of the court heard arguments on challenges to the law in February. A decision is not expected until later this summer.

Governor Scott Walker made passing voter ID legislation a legislative priority when elected and said last month he could call the legislature into special session if the law was overturned. State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen also said in a statement today he will appeal the decision.

PROFS registered against AB 7, legislation that became the state’s voter ID law in 2011.

Joint Audit Committee Approves UW System Plan on Cash Balances

UW_Day_at_Capitol13_1390The legislature’s Joint Committee on Audit met yesterday and unanimously approved UW System’s plan for managing and disclosing cash balances and fund reserves. Campus financial reserves have been the subject of intense legislative scrutiny since April 2013 when the Legislative Fiscal Bureau reported UW System holds more than $650 million in reserve.

The legislature directed UW System to develop a plan as part of the 2013-15 biennial budget (Act 20), and the Legislative Audit Committee requested additional changes after a plan was presented to them on November 20, 2013. The Board of Regents approved those revisions earlier this month.

The revised plan requires individual campuses to hold between 10 and 15 percent of their total fiscal year expenditures in reserve. Campuses with less than 10 percent fund balances must report a savings plan to the regents, while campuses holding more than 15 percent fund balances must provide justification to the regents and submit a spending plan for tuition, auxiliary operations, general operations, and unrestricted program revenue.

Archived audio of the meeting is available


JCOER Approves UW-Madison Personnel Plan

The legislature’s Joint Committee on Employment Relations approved new personnel plans for UW-Madison and UW System today. The legislature directed the university to develop plans to be implemented by July 1, 2015 as part of the 2011-13 biennial budget, but never approved them.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank told the committee the new human resources system will allow UW-Madison to attract and retain the best faculty and staff through increased management flexibilities:

This new system will give us flexibility in some places where we need it, greater coherence in how we deal with staff across all positions, and should help us recruit more effectively. Making sure we have the best talent is crucial if UW-Madison is to remain a world-class university, provide an excellent education to our students and help drive the economy of the state.

Merit raises based on performance, currently not allowed under state statutes, will be requested, according to Chancellor Blank.

Joint Committee on Employment Relations to Discuss UW-Madison’s HR Plan

The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Employment Relations (JCOER) will meet tomorrow, Wednesday, April 23, at 9:30 am to discuss UW-Madison’s new personnel system. UW System’s proposed personnel system is also on the agenda. The committee may take executive action on the plans after the public hearing, which will be held in Room 412 East, State Capitol.

The legislature directed UW-Madison and UW System to develop and implement their own personnel systems as part of the Act 32, the 2011-13 biennial budget, but the plans were never approved. JCOER held a public hearing last April, but did not vote on the plans, citing concern over UW System’s financial reserves. 

UW-Madison’s personnel plan is here.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Additional Two-Year Tuition Freeze

The editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel offered its opinion on Governor Walker’s proposal to extend the current tuition freeze for two additional years. University of Wisconsin System campuses are currently in the first year of a two-year tuition freeze implemented as part of the 2013-15 biennial budget.

The editorial notes that continuing the freeze will be popular with students and their families, but seems opportunistic in an election year. The freeze also raises important questions about how the state intends to fund UW System in the future:

Wisconsin students deserve affordability, but they also deserve a quality education — the kind of education the system has provided throughout its history. And a quality system requires quality faculty, staff and research facilities. Which, in turn, means paying competitive salaries and providing adequate funding for those facilities.

UW System President Ray Cross told the Journal Sentinel last week that he thought an additional one-year tuition freeze might be possible given current financial reserves, but a two-year freeze was unexpected. The editorial concludes that a one-year freeze with greater management flexibilities might have made more sense:

That strikes us as the more prudent option, unless the state is willing to come up with additional funding for the university to maintain affordability and quality for students. What the universities need is greater flexibility from state control — not more, mindless, politicized control. As we asked earlier: What sort of university system does the state want? Let your governor and legislators know.

Your opinion is important. Information on how to contact the governor or your legislators is here.

Governor Walker Proposes Additional 2-Year Tuition Freeze

Governor Scott Walker announced Friday morning that he would propose an additional two-year freeze on University of Wisconsin System tuition. The governor said his proposal was a direct result of the recent disclosure that UW System will finish the fiscal year with about $1 billion in reserve. Last year, the governor called for a two-year tuition freeze after the university was found to have just over $1 billion in reserve.

The governor’s plan came as a surprise as the UW System Board of Regents met for a second day in a regularly scheduled meeting. UW System President Ray Cross responded quickly, saying that he will continue his work with the governor and legislature while thoughtfully and judiciously managing and explaining UW System resources. Cross told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he had discussed the possibility of a one-year extension of the tuition freeze with the governor’s staff about a month ago, but the conversation had been casual.

The Regent Audit Committee and Budget and Finance Committee met Thursday morning and revealed cash balance projections for FY 2013-14. UW System will finish the year with almost $1.1 billion in reserve, about half coming from tuition.

UW System officials say that about 80 percent of the funds are committed on some level (see below). UW-Madison’s share of the reserve is about $600 million, and Cross told the Journal Sentinel that UW-Madison is among the handful of campuses that could survive three to four years on cash balances without implementing major budget cuts.

fy 2013-14 reserves

April Board of Regents Meeting

uw system logoThe University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents will meet Thursday and Friday, April 10 and 11 at UW-River Falls. Audio and video webcasts of the meeting will be available here.

The regents will meet in committee Thursday morning and hear from UW-River Falls Chancellor Dean Van Goren Thursday afternoon. The full board will also discuss financial reporting and the annual budget process.

The Education Committee will discuss faculty workload and compensation as part of its discussion, but supporting materials were not included with the agenda. Other items on the committee’s agenda include approval of annual Vilas Trust requests, a report on program planning and review, and renewal of UW-Milwaukee charter school authorizations.

The Audit Committee will meet jointly with the Business and Finance Committee. They will discuss two Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) reports:

The LAB found that UW System’s Human Resources System (HRS) continues to have problems with implementation, accuracy, and security.  Insurance billing errors totaled more than $10 million from April 2011 through May 2013.

The committees will also discuss revisions to UW System policies on financial reserves. Campus financial reserves have been the subject of intense legislative scrutiny since April 2013 when the Legislative Fiscal Bureau reported that UW System holds more than $650 million in financial reserves.

The committees recommend approval of a plan that requires individual campuses to hold between 10 and 15 percent of their total fiscal year expenditures in reserve. Campuses with less than 10 percent fund balances must report a savings plan to the regents, while campuses holding more than 15 percent fund balances must provide justification to the regents and submit a spending plan for tuition, auxiliary operations, general operations, and unrestricted program revenue.


Legislative Update

capitol dome interiorThe 2013-14 regular legislative session ended last week and legislators and the governor will shift their focus to the fall elections.

PROFS was very active in the legislative process, meeting with more than a dozen legislators and staff on several issues.

AB 729, a bill that will allow classified research on UW System campuses, was passed by the legislature and awaits the governor’s signature. PROFS registered in favor of this bill.

The governor recently signed many bills into law:

  • SB 655, a bill that included many changes to campaign finance laws. Under the new law, lobbyists may make election-year contributions to legislative candidates after April 15. Current law limits such contributions to June 1 or later.
  • SB 324, a bill that limits in-person early voting to weekdays from 8 am to 7 pm. Early voting on weekends will not be allowed. The governor vetoed a provision in the bill that would have limited early voting to 45 hours per week.
  • AB 202, a bill that would allow election observers as close as three feet from the tables where voters announce their names and addresses before receiving a number to vote.
  • SB 300, a bill that would require insurers to cover oral chemotherapy in the same way that intravenous chemotherapy is covered.
  • AB 726, a bill that would allow marijuana oil to be used as a treatment for seizure disorders.

Board of Regents

Governor Scott Walker named four new members to the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents last month. The governor appointed José Delgado and Eve Hall to replace outgoing Regents John Drew and Gary Roberts. Delgado and Hall will serve seven year terms beginning May 1.

Walker appointed UW-Madison student Nicolas Harsy to a two year term, serving as the non-traditional student regent and appointed UW-La Crosse student Anicka Purath to complete the two-year traditional student term being vacated by UW-Platteville student Chad Landes who is graduating in May and leaving the board early.

Fall Elections

Governor Scott Walker will face Democrat Mary Burke in November, and twenty legislators have announced they will retire at the end of their term or pursue higher office.

The following senators have announced they will retire at the end of their term:

  • Senator Tim Cullen (D-Janesville)
  • Senator Bob Jauch (R-Poplar)
  • Senator John Lehman (D-Racine)
  • Senator Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center)

The following assembly members will not run again:

  • Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber (D-Appleton)
  • Rep. Janet Bewley (D-Ashland)
  • Rep. Garey Bies (R-Sister Bay)
  • Rep. Fred Clark (D-Baraboo)
  • Rep. Mike Endsley (R-Sheboygan)
  • Rep. Dean Kaufert (R-Neenah)
  • Rep. Steve Kestell (R-Elkhart Lake)
  • Rep. John Klenke (R-Green Bay)
  • Rep. Bill Kramer (R-Waukesha)
  • Rep. Dan LeMahieu (R-Cascade)
  • Rep. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green)
  • Rep. Sandy Pasch (D-Shorewood)
  • Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee)
  • Rep. Janis Ringhand (D-Evansville)
  • Rep. Pat Strachota (R-West Bend)
  • Rep. Erik Severson (R-Osceola)
  • Rep. Mary Williams (R-Medford)

UW-Milwaukee Chancellor’s Departure Forces Discussion on Importance of UW System to State


Michael Lovell

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Chancellor Michael Lovell announced last week he would resign in July to become the first lay leader of Marquette University. Lovell’s departure after three-and-a-half years as chancellor came as a surprise to the greater Milwaukee community.

UW-Milwaukee has long enjoyed a good relationship with the Milwaukee business community, and Lovell maintained those close ties. Many of those business leaders recognize the importance to a strong public university system.

Sheldon Lubar, a former regent president and contributor to UW-Madison, UW-Milwaukee, and Marquette University noted the legislature’s recent treatment of UW System had an impact:

The UW System is the most important — without a rival second — the most important institution in the state, and the success of our community in Milwaukee and every community in our state is dependent on a highly educated citizenry. The university is not just a punching bag and a place you can take money from without any regard to what its impact is.

Lubar was referring to the controversy last year surrounding budget reserves. Lovell strongly defended the reserves and maintained that reserves are necessary to protect the institution from unexpected budget shortfalls.

Karen Herzog and Bill Glauber of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote Sunday that Lovell’s announcement comes as UW-Milwaukee is at a significant crossroads:

Several major construction projects are well underway, but others are still in the design phase and haven’t been funded. The university’s strategic plan is not settled — although Lovell vowed it will be finished by August, when he moves to Marquette. A massive campaign to raise hundreds of millions of dollars is just a year away. Enrollment has declined in the last three freshman classes, leading to work on a new enrollment strategy. Faculty turnover is distressing.

Geography professor Mark Schwartz, chair of UW-Milwaukee’s University Committee, told the Journal Sentinel that the university is underfunded and the legislature must decide what kind of  university it is willing to fund:

The one good thing that comes from this at some level is putting it in the hands of the state and (UW) System to really define what they want us to be. We want candidates to come in with a question mark about our status and our role in the future.