April 10, 2014
Todd Richmond
MADISON — The University of Wisconsin System finished the first three quarters of fiscal year 2013-14 with more than $1.7 billion on hand and should finish the year with about $1.1 billion left over, according to new data released Thursday.
The figures come as the Board of Regents’ finance committee is preparing to approve tweaks to a new policy governing the size of system institutions’ surpluses during a two-day meeting at UW-River Falls.
System officials have been the target of intense criticism over the past year after word broke the campuses had finished fiscal year 2012 with $1 billion on hand while tuition rose year after year.
The state budget that Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed in June froze tuition and required the regents to craft a policy governing how much cash each campus can have on hand.
The regents in October approved a plan that calls for campuses to finish each fiscal year with cash on hand totaling at least 10 percent of their yearly expenditures. If they finish with more than 15 percent of expenditures, they would have to justify it and get regent approval.
The Legislature’s audit committee refused to approve the policy in November, though, saying it was too jammed with technical detail. System officials have revised the policy, clarifying definitions and tacking on a provision that campuses can’t use the 10 percent target as a rationale to request any additional funding, including tuition increases.
The finance committee was set to vote on the plan Thursday. UW System spokeswoman Heather LaRoi had no immediate comment on whether the panel had approved the policy by Thursday afternoon. Approval would clear the way for the full board to take it up on Friday in River Falls.
The figures prompted Sen. Robert Cowles to call for a new way to track and audit the system’s surpluses and to consider freezing tuition.
“With the monies that are there … there’s no reason to think about a tuition increase for a year or possibly two,” said Cowles, a Green Bay Republican who serves as the audit committee co-chair.
Cowles also said the committee, which will meet later this month to review the new policy, will consider “flexibility within the various pots of so-called surplus monies, but not push the university to demand more.”
The finance committee’s documents included a look at cash-on-hand as of March 31 as well as projections on where they’ll stand on June 30, the end of the state’s fiscal year.
The data shows the system had $1.73 billion on hand as of March 31 going into the fourth quarters. Projections show the system will finish the fiscal year on June 30 with $1.1 billion to spare.
The system finished the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2013, with $1.1 billion on hand as well. All but about 3.5 percent of that moneywas earmarked for a specific purpose, however.