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Walker’s proposal to break off UW-Madison from System dead (UPDATE)

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to break off the Madison campus from the rest of the University of Wisconsin System is dead.

UW-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin said Friday it’s now clear there’s not enough support for the UW-Madison split at this point, though she’s optimistic a similar plan could be studied.

“I don’t think anything is foreclosed,” Martin said. “I think there’s a huge amount of interest that’s been demonstrated in change, I just don’t know what the ultimate outcomes of these various efforts at change will be.”

UW-Madison lobbyist Don Nelson said that talks were proceeding with state lawmakers over what new flexibility the Madison campus can be given to control its budget, set tuition and make other decisions. But he said Walker’s proposal that the campus endorsed to create a separate public authority is no longer an option.

“We’ve been told that pretty directly by the Senate that that’s not what they want to consider,” Nelson said.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, declined to comment through his spokesman.

Rep. Robin Vos, the Republican co-chairman of the Legislature’s budget committee, said in a statement Friday that he was confident lawmakers would find ways to give all campuses more flexibility, but there’s not enough support to break Madison off from the system.

Walker’s spokesman did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

“More and more legislators are less and less interested in any kind of split,” said University System spokesman David Giroux. “Legislators from around the state have heard from their local campuses that any kind of split is a bad idea.”

The two largest ongoing topics of debate are what freedoms will be granted to the campuses and how will they be implemented, and how will the governor’s proposed $250 million cut be spread out, Giroux said.

Under his budget, Madison would have taken half of it, or $125 million. Martin, who supported Walker’s plan, said the campus needed the autonomy he was proposing in order to deal with that cut.

The chancellors and UW President Kevin Reilly met on Thursday and agreed that if Walker’s plan to break Madison off from the System does not go forward, the Madison campus’s share of the cut should be more like 40 percent of the total and not half, Giroux said.

“What was heartening was the consensus that even after this divisive process we’ve been through, no one wants to see the UW-Madison campus punished,” Giroux said.

He characterized the ongoing talks with lawmakers as “very good.” Martin said that some of the compromise plans she’s seen would give UW-Madison the ability to offer faculty merit pay, recommend UW-Madison specific tuition increases and provide procurement flexibility.

“I’m actually delighted by the potential in some of these compromise plans that we’ve seen to get forms of decision making and authority as well as flexibility for UW-Madison and for the other campuses,” Martin said. “It would be unprecedented, obviously, to have that kind of progress.”

Martin said if those flexibilities aren’t included in final versions of the compromises, the campuses would need the legislature to reconsider the budget cuts.

Republicans who control the Legislature never seemed to embrace splitting Madison off from the rest of the system, especially after other campuses argued they should be given the same freedom. Vos said months ago it was highly unlikely the plan would pass as proposed.

The issue divided both the Madison campus and the university system, with other campuses and Reilly arguing against it. They and some lawmakers have argued that all 13 four-year campuses in the system should have the same autonomy that Walker proposed for Madison.

Numerous options have been floated around the Legislature, but Nelson said no one has agreed yet on which direction to go. Studying what Walker and Martin supported is one possibility, as is giving the Madison campus a separate operating board similar to the Board of Regents, he said.

The Joint Finance Committee is expected to vote on the university’s budget next week as it works to complete changes to Walker’s two-year spending plan before it’s sent to the full Legislature for consideration.

Associated Press writer Jason Smathers contributed to this report.

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