The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee will be in western Wisconsin next week at Baldwin-Woodville High School to hear public opinion on Gov. Walker’s proposed 2013-15 state budget. The fate of this budget will help determine the quality of education at UW-Stout and on other UW campuses for years to come.

My message is simple: This budget proposal deserves the Legislature’s unequivocal support.

The budget provides for $181 million in increased taxpayer support for the UW System over the biennium. The vast majority of this amount ($153 million) would go to ongoing operations to cover inflationary increases, utility costs, facility leases, debt service payments, and compensation and fringe benefit increases.

Some $28 million would go for new initiatives, with $20 million directed to performance-based funding for economic development projects and helping students afford college. Another $2 million would help launch the UW Flexible Option degree program.

This budget would be good news for our students: UW system officials have said that the proposed level of funding would allow for the lowest tuition increases in a decade.

For over two decades, the UW System has asked for more management flexibility to ensure efficiency in how we operate. This budget provides that in a critical area: The governor wants the Board of Regents to make the final decision on pay raises for UW employees and not a state agency or the full Legislature.

Hardly a day goes by when I don’t hear that we have lost a valuable faculty or staff member to a college or university in another state that offers higher salaries. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel took a look at the UW compensation issue recently and concluded that our salaries are about 20 percent behind our peers in other states.

Appearing before the Joint Finance Committee on March 21, UW System President Kevin Reilly said:

“If we cannot begin to close that compensation gap, we will devolve into a second-rate university. Students, families and employers would not be happy with that outcome. If granted new authority to avoid such a scenario, our Board of Regents would employ it in a fully transparent, accountable manner.”

We are working hard at UW-Stout, Wisconsin’s Polytechnic University, to help grow the state’s economy. Our 2011-12 graduates had a 97-percent employment rate within six months of leaving campus, and 12 of the undergraduate majors reported average starting salaries of $45,000 or more.

Any state budget process involves close inspection by the Legislature and give-and-take. I hope that as the UW System’s budget is reviewed, legislators keep in mind the $315 million in cuts the UW System absorbed in 2011-13 and how important this proposal is to maintaining the quality of UW-Stout and its sister institutions.

Charles W. Sorensen is completing his 25th year as chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

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