- Associated Press - Monday, February 27, 2017

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A key Republican legislator says Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to cut University of Wisconsin System tuition would force taxpayers to pay more and lawmakers should instead consider tuition increases based on inflation or increases in family income.

The governor’s proposal drew a lukewarm reception from Republicans just minutes after he announced it earlier this month. Rep. Dale Kooyenga, a member of the Legislature’s powerful budget committee, expressed his misgivings about the plan Friday in an article published on the Right Wisconsin website.

He wrote cutting tuition and backfilling it with state tax dollars means many Wisconsin residents who lack college degrees will have to pay higher taxes so others can graduate. He proposed allowing the system, individual campuses or even individual programs raise tuition to a percentage that doesn’t exceed inflation or the latest increase in the state’s median household income, whichever is less.

Kooyenga, of Brookfield, said in a telephone interview Monday that the state should invest in the UW System but students should make an investment in their own education. He added that cutting tuition now could lead to lawmakers making deeper cuts in the future, forcing more tax dollars to UW that could be used for other priorities such as K-12 public education.

Walker’s 2017-19 budget calls for cutting UW tuition by 5 percent in the second year and restoring the system’s lost revenue with a $35 million grant funded with tax dollars. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has said he would rather increase financial aid than cut tuition. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has questioned the cut as well.

Walker responded to Kooyenga on Monday with his own article on Right Wisconsin, writing that his tuition cut would save the average undergraduate $360 annually and reverse a trend of “irresponsible and unnecessary” cost increases in higher education.

“Some have … argued our proposal is bad for taxpayers because we are using state tax dollars to pay for the tuition reduction. But this is how we fund priorities,” Walker wrote. “The state should be making a commitment to keep higher education affordable. Our workforce depends on it.”

UW System spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

The budget committee will spend the next few months revising Walker’s spending plan before forwarding it on to the full Legislature for final votes this summer.

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Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

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