Common ground found in UW System's budget request

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) -- While the eggs were being eaten at Friday’s Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce breakfast, there were – as always – the issues.

For UW-Eau Claire chancellor Jim Schmidt, there is one issue looming over many others.

"It is imperative that the state of Wisconsin reinvest in UW-Eau Claire and the UW system in the 2017-19 budget," he said, in front of a crowd inside UWEC’s Davies Center which included four state representatives and two state senators.

The UW Board of Regents approved a request in august for $42.5 million in new funding, hoping to reverse years of declining state support. The regents' request now goes to Gov. Scott Walker for his consideration, starting next month.

UW-Eau Claire sits in the 91st assembly district and its representative – Democrat Dana Wachs – said if the UW system gets its budget request passed, it will not only help them but also stimulate business within the district.

"General Electric is moving their corporate headquarters from Connecticut to Boston, because they want to be closer to the 55 universities that are doing research in the Boston area. Private industry gets it," he said. "I very much support the Board of Regents proposed budget. I frankly would like to see much more investment in higher education than that and the sooner the better as far as I am concerned."

Business leaders were hoping for a simple answer and Republican state representative Kathy Bernier from the 68th assembly district, had one – which, in some ways, echoed Wach's answer.

“A simple answer is yes,” she said. “I can support 42.5 million and I do believe the employees, at this point in time, are long overdue for a 2% increase."

Added Terry Moulton, from the 23rd senate district: "This seems like a reasonable request to me and I believe I can support it. Obviously have to look at everything that happens in the budget, but knowing what I know now, I believe I could support it."

It will be an early test for those first-term representatives in the state assembly, including Rob Summerfield in the 67th district.

"I look forward to keep on continuing with the conversation to make sure we can come to the same conclusion and be able to make sure that our universities are well-funded for the future," he said.

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