Taxpayers should know UW budget details before passage

IT’S ONE THING TO attend to due diligence, double-check your numbers and make sure final budget documents are correct before releasing them.

It’s another thing to withhold information from the public — and, more importantly, from the taxpayers.

Yet, that is exactly what University of Wisconsin System officials did when they withheld budget documents this month until 90 minutes before the Board of Regents voted on the $6.2 billion 2016-17 budget.

UW system spokesman Alex Hummel initially told reporters that the system would release the budget on June 8, the day before the system budget was to be voted on, according to media reports.

Then, in an email, Hummel reportedly claimed officials were still working “to finalize the budget information.”

It was not publicly released until the regents started their meeting.

It was then, that the public — through the media — learned the details of the system’s spending and revenue plan.

The state has prohibited the system from raising undergraduate tuition but that doesn’t mean they cannot find other ways to raise money.

Under the system’s budget, fees will increase an average of $59 per student across the system and La Crosse students will face a $259 increase to cover the cost of a new student center and field house.

It’s not unusual for government agencies to turn to fees, but it’s not the same thing as holding the line on tuition. Whether it’s a tuition increase or a fee increase, it still means the same thing: more money out of students’ and parents’ pockets. Happy Father’s Day, dads — now fork over the money.

Those fee increases should be vetted; they shouldn’t be passed through in the dark. It’s just as bad as the Legislature voting in the middle of the night on bills.

Of all public institutions, the UW System should be extra concerned about disclosure to the public.

About two years ago, the public became outraged after learning about the UW System’s $648 million in cash reserves, following six years of steep tuition increases.

Between the 2007-2008 academic school year and 2012-13 school year, tuition across the UW System’s four-year schools increased 5.5 percent annually, while the system built up its reserves.

Then the governor stepped in and said that enough is enough.

In addition, this year faculty on campuses throughout the system took votes of no confidence in UW System President Ray Cross, concerning proposed tenure changes.

How does withholding budget documents from the public instill any confidence in the system?

It doesn’t. — The Journal Times of Racine, June 19

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