Update: Wis. lawmakers spare broadband program

The proposal would have forced the system to return millions in grants.

A controversial plan to cut $37 million in federal grant money from the University of Wisconsin system has been axed from the 2011-13 budget, according to a legislator involved with the process.

In a letter to a constituent, released to the State Journal Tuesday, state Rep. Erik Severson, R-Star Prairie, said the program known as WiscNet will continue unaltered for the next two years while a study is conducted to evaluate the program.

“Through much discussion with my colleagues, and after hearing from you and other members of the community on this complex subject, I am pleased to announce that WiscNet will not be changed by the budget bill,” Severson wrote.

The decision should come as good news to the UW Board of Regents, who vowed last week to fight the legislation, which would also end WiscNet, a statewide internet provider.

The proposal would have forced the system to return millions in grants intended to extend broadband to rural and under-served areas. The System also would have been forbidden from participating in a statewide cooperative that brings high-speed Internet to most schools and libraries across the state. The change to the budget was just the latest tweak to the $28 billion two-year spending plan, which is expected to reach the Assembly floor June 15.

The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee spent months working on the plan, emerging earlier this month with a document that differed little from the blueprint introduced by Gov. Scott Walker in March.

The proposal cuts spending on public schools by about $800 million, limits their ability to raise property taxes to make up the difference, slashes funding for the University of Wisconsin System by $250 million, takes some

$500 million from Medicaid programs and places an enrollment cap on Family Care, a program aimed at keeping poor elderly people out of nursing homes.

It also slashes the perennial imbalance between revenue and spending — known as the structural deficit — some 90 percent by 2013, from $2.5 billion to $250 million. There are no overall sales or income tax increases, and property taxes are held nearly flat.

Republican leadership did break with Walker over changing the popular SeniorCare prescription drug program, some recycling proposals and the governor’s bid to drastically revamp UW-Madison.

The UW System faces a $250 million cut in state aid over the next two years.

Under Walker’s original plan, UW-Madison would have received half of those cuts, with the rest spread out among the other universities in the system.

The system still faces $250 million in cuts, but now UW-Madison will shoulder only about $94 million over the two-year period.

Copyright (c) 2011, The Wisconsin State Journal Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. To see more of The Wisconsin State Journal, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.wisconsinstatejournal.com

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