UPDATE: GOP Lawmakers slam UW over $648 million surplus - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

UPDATE: GOP Lawmakers slam UW over $648 million surplus at hearing

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Republican lawmakers grilled UW officials over tuition increases Tuesday morning, after an audit found the system is running a $648 million surplus.

The University of Wisconsin System raised tuition rates 5.5 percent in each of the past six years, claiming it was necessary to offset state budget cuts.

But an audit from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau revealed the UW System has a hefty surplus.

Their report shows the UW System had $648 million in reserve at the end of fiscal year 2012, $414 million of which came from tuition.

"Our members are shocked quite frankly," said Rep. Scott Suder (R-Abbotsford), one of several GOP leaders that sit on the Joint Committee on Employment Relations.  The JCER had scheduled the meeting with UW System President Kevin Reilly to talk about his new personnel plan, but that was hardly even discussed.

"Here we have accounts of tuition being squirreled away at the same time that you raise tuition?," asked Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills).

"What were you thinking?," inquired Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau).

Reilly faced questions like that for close to two hours.  He attempted to explain why the UW System kept raising tuition on students, while putting away tens of millions of their dollars each year.

"We're not smart enough to know exactly what's going to happen with enrollment from year-to-year, and that's part of what we fear and we're not smart enough to know what will happen with the economy and the state budget," said Reilly.

And Reilly says despite the surplus, the system can't handle a tuition freeze, because they need to pay for faculty raises.

"They are now 18 percent below their peers in terms of compensation," said Reilly, referring to pay levels for faculty members at other universities.

Reilly is still seeking a two percent tuition increase in the next state budget.

Senate President Mike Ellis repeatedly asked Reilly if the UW Board of Regents even knew what he was up to and if they approved any of his prior actions.
    
"What my promise to you is and to the people of Wisconsin, we'll come forward and we'll consult with you before the Regents take any action on it, with a policy that lays out what we think a right number on these reserves should be," Reilly answered.

"After listening to what I did today, I am convinced that the Board of Regents, based on the answers I was given today, probably don't know 50 percent of what's going on," said Sen. Ellis, after the hearing.

"It seems to me that today's hearing, rather than answering questions, raised more questions that need to be answered as we move forward," said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester).

Sen. Ellis and Rep. Vos say that will be their next step, to determine how much the Regents knew and if reilly acted without their consent.

They say any action regarding the UW System's budget and its new personnel plans are on hold until they get some more answers.

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MADISON (WKOW) -- Republican lawmakers bashed UW officials Tuesday morning, over the UW System's $648 million surplus.

The surplus, discovered by Legislative Fiscal Bureau audit, was called "shocking" and "embarrassing" by Republicans at a hearing of the Joint Committee on Employment Relations.

Lawmakers said the UW System is getting rich while continuing to raise tuition on struggling students.

The JCER is comprised of several GOP leaders, including Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau). 

UW System President Kevin Reilly says the reserve funds are needed because enrollment, the economy and state aid to the UW is unpredictable.

Capitol Bureau Chief Greg Neumann covered the JCER hearing and will have live reports on 27 News at 5 and 6.

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