Gov. Jim Doyle on Monday drew a line between wish and need by vetoing a bill that could have given state universities louder voices for campus project approval.
“I would be happier if we had a regent from up here,” said Julius Erlenbach, University of Wisconsin-Superior chancellor. “I will grumble now and again that we have too much representation down south, but you look at the population — it makes sense.”
State Sen. Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, wrote the bill that would have split the state into seven geographic districts and required someone from each district be a member of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents.
The 18-member board now includes 10 people from Milwaukee County or Dane County. The bill’s supporters argued the board’s makeup is unfair because there are no regents who live near campuses in Kenosha, Whitewater, Superior, Eau Claire, Menomonie or River Falls.
The state Senate and Assembly passed the bill in November.
But in the governor’s veto message, Doyle pointed out the bill would limit his ability to pick the best candidates and would encourage regents to prioritize local issues rather than those affecting the entire UW System.
The board’s majority membership from the southern Wisconsin counties does not mean other campuses are ignored, said Regent Jeffrey Bartell.
“Each regent is assigned two or three campuses, including the two-year campuses, to buddy up with,” he said. “I work with UW-Oshkosh and UW-River Falls, and the whole process gives every regent a perspective of that campus and their needs. Each one has an advocate.”
The advocacy is strong enough, said state Rep. Nick Milroy, D-Superior.
“The board is focused on the system as a whole,” he said. “You change that, and it’s not out of the question to think that one person focuses on the northwest region and advocates strongly to the Legislature for a particular project or campus and ignores the others.”
But bill co-sponsor state Rep. Jeff Smith, D-Eau Claire, said he is not convinced every campus gets equal consideration.
“I think it’s no coincidence UW-Eau Claire has not had a new education building built in about 35 years,” he said.
But UW-Eau Claire and other northern Wisconsin campuses have projects either in planning or under construction. UW-Eau Claire is working on designs for a $48.8 million student center, while work continues on new academic buildings at UW-Superior and UW-Stout.
The Legislature earlier this year advanced work on the estimated $32 million Swenson Hall project at UW-Superior by setting aside money in the 2009-11 state budget.
“I’ve never heard anyone say, ‘You ignore us,’ in terms of construction projects,” said Bartell, who also is the chairman of the Board of Regents’ Capital Planning and Budget Committee. “I think it’d be hard to prove that any campus gets ignored.”
But, Smith said, it’s hard to say every campus gets equal treatment.
“I think the veto lost us our best window of opportunity to get this done,” he said. “You look at the fact that both parties’ candidates for governor come out of the Milwaukee area, and I don’t think this will be changing any time soon.”
Change would be nice, UW-Superior’s Erlenbach said, but it is not necessary.
“There’s no question we’ve been doing well as a campus,” he said. “We get our projects through.”