- Associated Press - Thursday, January 29, 2015
UW president orders cost-saving tactics ahead of budget cuts

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The University of Wisconsin System president fired back Thursday against Gov. Scott Walker’s suggestion that faculty teach more classes as a way to help absorb a $300 million funding cut, saying the governor doesn’t understand professors already face a huge workload.

President Ray Cross told The Associated Press he’s frustrated by the suggestion, saying the governor shouldn’t target professors at the system’s 26 campuses. Cross said he partly blames himself for not informing state officials that professors on average work more than 50 hours a week and help attract research worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

“It just reflects a lack of understanding,” Cross said. “It’s our responsibility to help the public understand what a faculty member does, what their workload includes. We haven’t done a good job with that. My frustration is both toward me and people who don’t understand.”

Walker, a Republican mulling a presidential run in 2016, has proposed the massive financial cut as a way to help solve a $2 billion state budget deficit. His plan also includes a two-year tuition freeze and would decouple the system from state oversight, allowing it to operate with more independence.

Walker said Wednesday the cuts will force UW faculty and staff to teach more classes, work harder, and do things they traditionally haven’t done.

Cross compared Walker’s perspective to someone who thinks a minister only works on Sunday mornings, or legislators only working when they’re on the floor debating bills. Cross said that if Walker thinks the faculty isn’t performing, he should blame system administrators who supervise them.

“If you do it well - and that’s what we want - it is a heavy workload,” Cross told the AP.


Advocates for Kenosha casino renew plea to Walker

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Members of the Menominee Tribe, southeastern Wisconsin union workers and a bipartisan group of state lawmakers came together Thursday to urge Gov. Scott Walker to reconsider his rejection of a proposed new casino in Kenosha.

Walker turned down the tribe’s proposal last week and reiterated on Wednesday that he would not change his mind. Even so, those who have worked years on the $800 million casino project said are not willing to give up until the Feb. 19 deadline set by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs for a decision.

“It is not too late,” said Crystal Chapman-Chevalier, vice chair of the poverty-stricken Menominee Tribe. She said the opportunity to create more than 10,000 new jobs presented a “once-in-a-lifetime economic opportunity” for the tribe and the state that Walker couldn’t walk away from in good faith.

But Walker, who is considering running for president in 2016 and faces a $2 billion state budget shortfall, said approving the casino put Wisconsin at risk of losing hundreds of millions of dollars if the Forest County Potawatomi Tribe successfully withheld payments. That tribe vehemently opposed the project out of fears it would cut into profits of its lucrative Milwaukee casino, the state’s largest, and last year withheld a $25 million payment to the state when it appeared the Kenosha casino may be approved.

“I can’t in good faith look at the people of the state and say that I can put $100 million out of the budget now and over the next few months and even more in the future,” Walker said Wednesday.

Walker said after nearly a year and a half of working to reach a deal, he couldn’t find one that wouldn’t put hundreds of millions of dollars at risk.

But casino advocates renewed their argument Thursday that there was no risk of losing any money because the Menominee promised to cover any Potawatomi losses and even put up a $250 million bond to protect the state. Chapman-Chevalier hinted that the tribe may file a lawsuit over Walker’s decision, saying that it was exploring all of its legal options.


GOP lawmaker calls for revisions in UW budget plan

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A Republican lawmaker is calling for dramatic changes in Gov. Scott Walker’s budget plan for the University of Wisconsin System.

Walker has proposed slashing the system’s budget by $300 million, freezing tuition for two years and decoupling the system from state oversight.

Sen. Steve Nass of Whitewater, one of the system’s toughest critics and vice-chair of the Senate’s universities committee, has warned the plan would allow regents to raise tuition at will starting in 2017.

Nass issued a news release Thursday calling for shortening regent appointments from seven years to three, saying that would improve accountability. He also called for capping tuition increases at the rate of inflation.

Walker’s plan is far from final. The Legislature will spend months revising it before the Senate and Assembly vote on it.


Sen. Tammy Baldwin tells VA to interview whistleblowers

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin on Thursday asked that the lead investigator looking into allegations of opiates being overprescribed and retaliatory practices at the VA hospital in Tomah take into account whistleblowers’ testimony.

The medical center came under scrutiny earlier this month when media and whistleblower accounts detailed the widespread overuse of narcotics. A 35-year-old Marine, Jason Simcakoski, died of an overdose in the hospital’s inpatient care unit in August.

In a letter, Baldwin asked VA Undersecretary Carolyn Clancy, who will serve as the lead investigator in the monthlong probe, consider concerns not addressed in an earlier report. Baldwin said an investigation conducted by the VA’s Office of the Inspector General published in March was not thorough in its reporting of opiate-prescribing practices.

“It is clear that prescription drug distribution and the overall management at Tomah warrant a full investigation,” Baldwin wrote. “Despite these alarming numbers, the OIG did not find evidence of wrongdoing.”

A representative in Clancy’s office said Thursday that Clancy was on her way to Tomah and would make a statement about Baldwin’s recommendations Friday after touring the facility.

Baldwin also suggested that Clancy implement a national review of VA hospitals’ prescription drug policies. She said the lack of information about prescription practices in the March investigation “seriously calls into question the Department of Veterans Affairs’ national standard of care.”

Tomah VA Chief of Staff David Houlihan has been suspended pending further investigation, Baldwin said.

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