UWM stiffed (again) in governor’s budget

How can it be that Milwaukee and the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee (UWM) are chopped liver in Gov. Ever’s massive building budget for 2023-25?

In late February Democratic Gov. Tony Evers rolled out his ambitious budget proposal for $3.8 billion in buildings upgrades across Wisconsin. About half would be paid out from the state’s whopping $7 billion plus surplus. Of that, $1.8 billion would go to the UW System for bricks-and-mortar building projects.

Evers got 71% of Milwaukee County votes for governor, so he must have had a senior moment when he and his staff decided to allot no major projects to the state’s second flagship university that grants doctorates. What other explanation can there be?

In contrast, UW Madison got a staggering $347 million for its College of Engineering to replace an outdated building. UWM got zip for renovating or replacing its obsolete engineering building. (The Milwaukee metro area hires more engineers than Madison.)

UW Madison also got $285 million to demolish and replace the Camp Randall Sports Center with a new indoor practice field. Now there’s a project that will advance the slipping R&D ranking of that campus.

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire convinced the governor to spend $231 million on new science buildings that house biology and computer science.

Equally adept at lobbying was the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse that landed $182 million for a two-phased science building project.

In stark contrast, UWM’s long-standing initiative to house its College of Health Sciences on the northwest side of its campus for $181 million was specifically excluded from Evers’ budget. It makes no sense whatsoever.

The project got half built in the 2019-21 budget and then was left unfinished with zero dollars in the 2021-23 budget. It will be left unfinished in the 2023-25 budget if the Evers’ budget prevails.

That comes against the backdrop of rising applications and a hot job market for health care disciplines at UWM, which already houses the state’s largest nursing school at 2000 students.

It won a new College of Public Health in the 2009 budget, but it has never been funded to be successful. Could somebody explain that omission when public health rankings and outcomes have fallen dramatically in Milwaukee? It ranks near the bottom of the state in black infant mortality and for immunizations of school kids.

Statewide public health rankings have also dropped sharply from one of the best states in the country to the middle of the pack. One would think that Governor Evers, whose father was a public health doctor, would be especially attuned to the need for improved public health resources. Shouldn’t the three-year Covid pandemic have proved that point to the max?

One reality stands out. UWM and the Milwaukee establishment do a pathetic job of lobbying for UWM. Where was the Metropolitan Association of Commerce when Gov. Evers was drafting his budget? Clearly, other UW campuses were extremely effective in making their cases to the governor’s staff.

Where was the Greater Milwaukee Committee, now headed by Joel Brennan, Evers former secretary of the Department of Administration. If anybody knows the budgetary ropes, he does.

UWM was successful two budgets ago in landing a new chemistry building for $118 million. In the Madison-centric UW System, it was a rare success. In the current biennium, which Brennan helped to craft when he was still in Evers’ cabinet, UWM got zilch in 2021-23 in Evers’ budget.

How did the UWM omission this time around get by Jay Rothman, UW System president who hails from the Milwaukee establishment?

Where were Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson and Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley and their staffs?

In short, why doesn’t the Milwaukee establishment get its act together in support of UWM?

Where, also, are the Democratic legislators from Milwaukee when the state dollars are being doled out? They have seldom brought home the bacon.

When Chris Abele was Milwaukee County Executive, he often described UWM as the region’s most valuable asset. How did that concept get lost in the state’s budgeting?

There is an opportunity here where the Republican leaders in the legislature could do better by UWM, which is the state’s premier access university for veterans and many first-generation students of all stripes.

The Republicans never pay much attention to Evers’ budget proposals. They write their own. So this an opening for them to win some points from big donors, big business owners in Milwaukee and from the nearly 200,000 alumni from UWM.

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