MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Gov. Scott Walker's latest budget proposal would allow for the sale of state property to help pay down the state's debt, but the University of Wisconsin System isn't likely to lose any of its land because it has so little to spare, a UW System official told the board of regents Thursday.
UW officials had in the past considered selling property to raise money in response to $20 million in budget cuts, said David Miller, the UW System's associate vice president of capital planning and budget. He said only the only two properties that might have made sense to sell would have brought in a mere $2.4 million.
Other UW properties that weren't immediately adjacent to a campus could be sold, but those properties are generally under restrictions that would return any sale money to the land's original donor or to a charitable, Miller said. So the state wouldn't have any incentive to sell those lands.
"So we really have no property to sell, is the bottom line," Miller told the board.
As part of Walker's budget proposal, all state agencies would have to submit a list of property to the Department of Administration, which would obtain appraisals for any properties offered for sale. Prisons, parks and land owned by the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands would be off the table. Stewardship land would be eligible for sale.
The regents met in Madison for a daylong discussion of budget and planning issues. The meeting carried a more optimistic tone than in recent years, mainly because Walker's proposed budget calls for more than $181 million in new funding. Walker's last budget cut UW funding by $315 million.
"I've been here for six years. It's nice not to be looking at big cuts," said Joe Gow, the chancellor of UW-La Crosse.
Nearly half of the $181 million would be in the form of a so-called flexible block grant, which could be used to items such as salary increases and rises in utility costs. Another $21 million would fund fringe benefits, facility leases and inflationary costs, and $20 million would go toward initiatives designed to boost economic development.
The influx of cash could pay off for students as well, who have become accustomed to regular tuition hikes. Tuition is still expected to go up, but likely by a smaller amount than in previous years, said, Freda Harris, UW System's vice president for budget and planning.
Harris said students currently pay about 70 percent of the cost of their education with the state making up the rest. In the 1970s the state paid 75 percent, she said.
"This budget could begin the trend of helping to close those numbers," she said.
The regents were also given an update on an apparent oversight that led to the overpayment of nearly $33 million for health insurance premiums and pension contributions over the last two years. The overpayments were revealed following a recent state audit.
Michael Morgan, a UW System senior vice president, said workers are continuing to implement safeguards to prevent similar overpayments. He also said the investigation into the initial problem is ongoing but that nothing has surfaced to suggest any intentional fraudulent activity.
"We want to ensure the integrity by satisfying ourselves that there is no fraud, that there are no employees out there being paid, no fake bank accounts being set up," Morgan said. "So far we have found nothing."
The UW System has recovered all but about $12 million of the money, and Morgan said efforts continue to recoup those dollars.
"It's going be very, very difficult to recover many of those dollars but we're going to be very aggressive in trying to recover as many of them as we possibly can," he said.
Morgan said changes are being implemented to prevent further overpayments, and that auditors have been hired to oversee the changes and to evaluate further shortcomings with the payment system.