The Latest: Democrats: Fee opt-out could drive up bus costs

By The Associated Press, Ledger-Enquirer

MADISON, Wis.--The Latest on budget briefings and discussion of an audit for the University of Wisconsin (all times local):

5:35 p.m.

Democrats on the Legislature's finance committee are questioning provisions in Gov. Scott Walker's budget that would allow students to opt out of some fees.

Walker's budget would allow students to opt out of payng fees that support student activities and organizations. They would still have to pay fees that support university commitments and operational costs.

Sen. Lena Taylor, a Milwaukee Democrat, and Rep. Katrina Shankland, a Stevens Point Democrat, said during a Joint Finance Committee hearing on the UW System's portion of the budget Thursday that allowing students to opt out of fees would hurt student organizations and could drive up the cost of bus passes. A number of campuses fund bus passes for students with student fees.

UW System President Ray Cross acknowledged the opt-out could affect bus passes.

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5 p.m.

University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross is urging legislators to let system administrators set policies on faculty teaching loads.

Gov. Scott Walker's state budget includes provisions that would require regents to develop teaching workload standards and reward faculty who go beyond them as well as making state aid contingent on faculty instructional hours.

Sen. Sheila Harsdorf asked UW System President Ray Cross during a hearing Thursday on how faculty should balance teaching, research and other responsibilities.

Cross says he has no problem with a workload policy, noting each campus already has one. But he believes the Legislature shouldn't dictate it and leave it instead to system administrators.

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4:10 p.m.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says he doesn't think allegations that a few University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh officials improperly transferred funds to the school's foundation changes his position on how much funding the UW System deserves.

Vos told reporters Thursday unless there was widespread fraud or UW officials knew about the transfer and failed to act, the situation shouldn't impact decisions as legislators put together their budget.

His position contrasts that of Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, who earlier Thursday said the allegations could have an impact on how much money UW receives.

Vos says he still thinks UW needs more revenue to give faculty pay raises, support research and attract star faculty. Vos is a former student regent.

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4 p.m.

The leader of the University of Wisconsin System is praising Gov. Scott Walker's budget in front of the Legislature's finance committee.

UW System President Ray Cross told the Joint Finance Committee on Thursday that Walker's spending plan is the best budget the system has seen in a decade. He says the budget provides the first new dollars for the system in more than 10 years.

Walker's budget provides $100 million in new funding for the system, with $42.5 million of that contingent on schools meeting performance goals. The two-year spending plan also provides UW employees with a 2 percent raise in each year. The new money comes after Walker and his fellow Republicans cut $250 million from the system in the 2015-2017 budget.

Cross told the committee he'd still like to see UW get the ability to issue its own bonds rather than rely on the state to issue them. Committee co-chairwoman Sen. Alberta Darling called that a tough sell.

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1:40 p.m.

University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross says he hopes legislators realize that allegations former UW-Oshkosh officials improperly transferred millions to the school's nonprofit foundation was an anomaly when they consider the system's budget.

The regents filed a lawsuit in January alleging former UW-Oshkosh officials concealed the transfers, amounting to theft. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald warned Thursday that UW schools' relationships with private foundations could impact how much state aid the system receives in the budget.

Cross told the Legislature's audit committee Thursday that system officials launched an extensive review of schools' transactions with their foundation after they learned of the Oshkosh situation and haven't found any broad problems approaching what happened at Oshkosh.

He told reporters outside the committee meeting that he hopes Fitzgerald won't withhold aid over the situation. He says he hopes legislators realize the transfers were an anomaly and an abnormal situation and the system too very direct steps to deal with it.

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1:10 p.m.

The Legislature's audit committee has authorized a review of University of Wisconsin System schools' relationships with their private foundations.

The Joint Audit Committee voted unanimously Thursday to launch the review.

State Auditor Joe Chrisman told the committee UW schools have 74 affiliated organizations. The committee gave state auditors permission to decide which ones to analyze more fully and what the reviews will cover.

UW regents have filed a lawsuit accusing former UW-Oshkosh officials of concealing millions of dollars in improper financial transactions to that school's nonprofit foundation for construction projects.

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This item has been updated to correct that the Legislature's audit committee, not the audit bureau, approved the review.

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12:25 p.m.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald says the University of Wisconsin System schools' relationships with private foundations is a "dark cloud" and could have an impact on how much money UW receives in the state budget.

Fitzgerald sent the warning shot on Thursday as lawmakers were preparing to approve an audit to investigate the issue.

Fitzgerald told reporters that the issue will be in the back of lawmakers' minds "if the UW System does not make an affirmative and aggressive attempt to clarify the interaction between the foundations and public institutions."

Fitzgerald says it is an issue that "needs a lot of attention between now and the end of the budget."

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9:08 a.m.

Legislators are set to order a review of University of Wisconsin System schools' relationships with their private foundations.

The Legislature's Joint Audit Committee is set to hold a hearing Thursday on the scope of the review and vote on ordering state auditors to undertake the work.

UW regents in January filed a lawsuit accusing UW-Oshkosh's former chancellor, Richard Wells, and former vice chancellor of administrative services, Thomas Sonnleitner, of theft. The regents alleged they concealed millions of dollars in improper financial transfers to the school's nonprofit foundation. According to the lawsuit, the money went to help the foundation complete development projects. The regents contend money should flow only from the foundation to the university.

UW officials have said they're reviewing other foundations and their schools but haven't found any irregularities.


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