The Wisconsin State Journal Chris Rickert column [The Wisconsin State Journal]
(Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, WI) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Jan. 17--The first act in the biennial drama over how many taxpayer dollars the UW System will get in the next state budget occurred in August when the Board of Regents asked for a $21 million funding increase from the last state budget.
In the coming months, the governor and Legislature will approve something less than what the System wants, and the Regents will likely respond by recommending the highest tuition increase it can for the seventh year in a row, while simultaneously issuing warnings about how shorting the System threatens to hurt educational offerings.
OK, so I know this drama's not exactly a cliffhanger. But the usual plot could take at least one unusual twist in the form of questions over how the allegedly cash-strapped System could manage to make $15.4 million in unnecessary health insurance premium payments -- including $8 million for people it no longer employs -- and $17.5 million in unnecessary pension contributions.
It's not the first glitch in the System's human resources bureaucracy.
In 2007, the Legislative Audit Bureau reported that the System had spent $28.4 million on a computerized payroll system before abandoning it due to implementation problems. It then switched to its current payroll software, called PeopleSoft.
System president Kevin Reilly says an outside audit will be conducted of PeopleSoft. But clearly, it's fair to wonder about the System's procurement processes.
Regardless of the software, it's hard to understand why somebody within the System's HR bureaucracy wouldn't notice the flood of red ink and then take some action to stop it before it reached the levels it did.
"These are the questions we seek to answer through a thorough external and internal review of our systems and processes," System spokesman David Giroux told me.
It is especially confounding given that it appears likely the System won't get refunds or credit for a significant portion of the unnecessary payments and contributions.
It's not clear yet whether UW's overpayments will affect the amount of money Republican Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-dominated Legislature entrust to the System, but Republicans generally don't need any help being suspicious of more public funding for higher education.
Rep. Samantha Kerkman, R-Powers Lake, the co-chairwoman of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, said the latest System payroll problem will make her "much more mindful of their budget request" when it comes to HR spending.
And Rep. John Nygren, R- Marinette, co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Finance, said in a statement: "With over $13 million still unaccounted for, I would be hard pressed to find a reason to fund future requests by the UW System."
The common rejoinder System officials provide when told they need to tighten their belts is that their belts are already cinched pretty tight.
But if officials don't even know where they're wasting money, it might be a little hard for them to find places to save it.
Contact Chris Rickert at 608-252-6198 or firstname.lastname@example.org, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisRickertWSJ). His column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.
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