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State budget delay puts UW System in a bind

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The three-month delay of the Wisconsin state budget may force the University of Wisconsin-Madison to make budget cuts in its courses, faculty and financial aid packages.

UW-Madison is using funds from last year to cover this year's expenses because the 2007-'09 state budget has not been passed, said Jack O'Meara, a lobbyist for Public Representation Organization of the Faculty Senate, a non-profit organization of 900 UW-Madison faculty members.

"The budget is built on the assumption that we'll get this money soon," O'Meara said. "We're relying on money from last year's budget."

The standstill is because of to two different visions – one in the Wisconsin State Assembly, the other in the state Senate – for how much money the UW System should receive, said Patrick O'Connell, organizing and communications director for United Council, an organization that lobbies for UW students.

"The UW System is caught in a crossfire," O'Connell said.

He said the proposed Assembly bill includes a total of $70 million over two years for UW-Madison and $30 million for this year – millions of dollars short of the minimum needs for students throughout the system, he said.

"The system has already been cut pretty thin and if it gets another cut, it's going to have an immediate and noticeable impact on the education students are paying for," O'Connell said.

As a result of the late budget, the chancellor and the provost have asked deans across campus to put together "what-if scenarios," or plans for dealing with a decreased budget, said Brian Mattmiller, spokesman for UW-Madison.

"We don't know what the outcome will be and we have to react to the uncertainty that's out there," Mattmiller said.

Those plans call for mid-year budget cuts resulting in fewer course offerings and enrollment caps on programs, he said.

O'Connell said the decreased budget will put 50 to 100 students in upper-level classes that usually accommodate only 20.

In a letter to the legislators, UW-Madison Chancellor John D. Wiley said that with the budget uncertainty in mind, the university is preparing for a mid-year budget cut of about 6.56 percent.

"These actions would have major adverse consequences for the university and the state, both in the short term and over time," Wiley said in the letter.

If the budget is not passed, the School of Business would have to eliminate 13 course sections and eight positions, the letter said. The UW-Madison Law School would eliminate 19 courses and its summer clinical program.

The letter also said that many teachers' aid positions would go, which would decrease the number of graduate students who depend on the work.

Daniella Lopez, a UW-Madison sophomore, said the university would also cut funding in student organizations like the newspaper and intramural sports.

"It really affects the campus on a personal level and we'll lose a lot of people that make the campus unique," Lopez said.

In addition, 5,500 students are waiting on financial aid packages that cannot be passed out until the budget comes, O'Connell said.

He said some students have already dropped out because tuition bills are due soon.

Don Nelson, assistant dean of state relations, said students are concerned about graduating in four years.

"With an uncertain future with how the financial aid programs will be, it really puts students in a bind as to whether they should find a second job or work study program," Nelson said.

O'Meara said the university and students are worried about the delayed budget.

"People are concerned about whether there is a commitment to maintaining a world-class university," he said.

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