By Courtney Mullen | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON, Wis. — Here’s the University of Wisconsin-Madison Idea on how to deal with the massive layoffs administrators are threatening should Gov. Scott Walker’s two-year budget proposal come to pass: Last ones hired, first ones fired.
UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank laid out the doomsday scenarios late Wednesday night for a packed audience of mostly third-shift university employees gathered for the first of Blank’s budget forums scheduled this week.
As the result of Walker’s proposal to trim $300 million from the University of Wisconsin Systembudget, Blank predicted layoffs in most operations campuswide.
“Some people will lose their jobs as a result of this budget cut and that is, unfortunately, a fact,” Blank told the standing-room only crowd that turned out for the 11 p.m. forum at the university’s 345-seat Health Sciences Learning Center.
Employees voiced concerns about the impact on their wages, raises, benefits, as well as talk of a “hiring freeze” during the hour-long session.
UW-Madison Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration Darrell Bazzell said layoffs would most likely be based on seniority — not solely on work performance.
Blank ran the numbers, very much subject to change in a fluid legislative biennial budget process. She noted that $60 million is proposed to be directly taken from UW-Madison’s budget. The chancellor added another $5-10 million in cuts proposed in other parts of the budget with some reductions still not “absorbed” from the last biennium, for a total estimated budget hit of more than $90 million.
“To deal with a $90 million budget cut is just too much; it is too much for the university and it is too much for the state,” Blank said, repeating a line she has pounded home in recent days.
Administrators, however, haven’t touched much on the hundreds of millions of dollars in cash on hand the UW System controls, portions of which could go to defray some of the impact.
While the chancellor claims Walker’s proposed budget cuts will be devastating and force the displacement of untold numbers of employees, she said there is enough money to raise all employees to a “living wage” level.
“We have put money aside to raise those employees (below living wage) to the living wage level when we get that authority effective July 1,” she said. “We are planning to do that despite this budget crisis because it is just too important to make sure that all of our employees are at least at living wage.”
Blank apologized to the university employees several times for Walker’s budget plan, which also gives the University System more autonomy and less legislative control — something for which administrators have asked.
The chancellor did not mention whether the looming budget cuts would impact her annual base salary of $495,000. Presumably Blank, a former Obama administration official hired in spring 2013, would not fall under the “seniority” rule.
Blank told the employees she is fighting for them, that she met with more than a dozen legislators Wednesday at the State Capitol and will be back Thursday.
“We are mobilizing to try to indicate our unhappiness with this cut proposal,” she said.
Blank also encouraged her employees to get involved in advocating for the university and the system.
“If any of you feel like engaging in this in your nonwork time and contacting your legislator and expressing your views, I strongly encourage you to do that. This, I think, will be quite helpful, to have people from the university who are feeling the effects speaking out about what those effects are,” Blank said.
To offset the cuts, Blank mentioned raising tuition on out-of-state students, increasing the university’s share of out-of-state students, and looking for “ways to run less expensively in some of the university’s units over time.”
Republican lawmakers for years have asked the university to “run less expensively” overall.
Blank has scheduled more budget forums on campusThursday and Friday. Others are expected to follow in coming weeks.