Public authority, not-so-public information

Student senators support model despite not having all the facts


Photo by Raina Beutel

Story by Raina Beutel, Staff Writer

Senate passed a resolution, despite opposition Monday supporting a plan inside the 2015-17 Wisconsin State Budget to dub the UW System a “public authority.”

Gov. Scott Walker’s latest budget proposal — with a  $300 million state funding — would deem the UW System a public authority in June 2016.

The plan would allow the System more control over tuition rates and more spending authority, Mike Rindo, assistant chancellor for facilities and university relations, said in a presentation to Senate before the vote.

“Everything from paper clips to copy machines to buildings,” Rindo said.

Future UW System funding under the plan would come from a block grant tied to state sales tax and subject to inflation changes. Now, UW System funding comes from several state sources.

The public authority model would also give the university control of the planning and construction process, allowing the university to complete projects quicker, Rindo said.

Rindo said these flexibilities would make for a “more efficient, and most likely money-saving operation.”

Intergovernmental Affairs Director Rebecca Jewell, who drafted the resolution, said acceptance of the public authority model will benefit the university, and is a solution to many years of putting “Band-aids” on the issue.

“It would help us through these changes, which are inevitable,” Jewell said.


Senator Erin Murphy voiced disapproval for the public authority model Monday. She cautioned senators to “seriously consider” the effects of putting income at the mercy of sales tax, a system Rindo said is not “recession-proof”.

Murphy also warned senators to assess what may happen once the tuition freeze ends.

Currently, the UW System can’t raise tuition more than 5.5 percent a year without state approval, but the public authority model would do away with limits on annual tuition raises, she said.

Murphy said she’s worried the UW System would hike tuition under the public authority model making college “prohibitive” for some students.

“And while … the people there did vote for public authority, they had a lot more transparency,” Murphy said. “Here, we’re not working with concrete ideas.”

A tuition increase of that size would forcibly reduce the size of the university, something Murphy said is not in the best interest of students.

Finance Director Christian Paese pointed to a study conducted that showed the actual costs of attending college, as well as the contribution of state aid, and said when adjusted for inflation, are lower than they have been “in the past.”

Paese said by accepting public authority, the university “can have a say” and “let the free market work for us.”

“Why wouldn’t we?” Paese said. “I don’t see how you can logically sit here and say that public authority model is the end of the world and the university as we know it.”

Senator Stephen Kahlow said it is vital for the university to continue to make “significant strides preparing for what has yet to come.”

“I don’t know if the UW system as it stands is safe anywhere in this state legislature,” he said. “No one has a perfect idea of how (this) will work.”