Republican leaders of Wisconsin Legislature at odds over withholding university pay raises

By HARM VENHUIZEN Associated Press/Report for America

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Republican head of the Wisconsin Senate said Monday he wants to see pay raises approved for Universities of Wisconsin employees, pitting himself against the state Assembly speaker who has vowed to withhold UW funding until it cuts its spending on diversity, equity and inclusion.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos refused to approve pay raises for UW employees in October when the Legislature’s employment relations committee, which Vos co-chairs, okayed them for other state employees. Vos said he doesn’t believe the UW system deserves more funding until it cuts its so-called DEI programs.

Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu said Monday that he opposes withholding the money.

“I totally understand where Speaker Vos is coming from, but a lot of employees who work at the UW system have no control over the DEI protocol and all that stuff,” LeMahieu said in an interview with WisconsinEye.

LeMahieu said he has been talking with Vos about the issue and hopes to see the raises passed “sooner rather than later.”

Earlier this year, Wisconsin Republicans rejected funding for UW’s top budget priority: a new engineering building on the flagship Madison campus. LeMahieu said Monday that he hopes to see that funding approved by the end of the current legislative session.

Vos did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment on Monday, but he has been adamant in calling for an end to DEI programs on UW campuses.

While writing the budget in June, Republicans slashed UW’s funding by $32 million because they estimated that’s what the system’s 13 campuses put towards DEI efforts over two years. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers used his veto power to save 188 DEI positions at the university, but the funding cut remained.

Vos said in October that he would consider approving pay raises if UW gives up its ability to create its own jobs, including DEI roles.

Evers sued the Republican-controlled Legislature later that month, accusing lawmakers of obstructing basic government functions. The governor called it “just bull s—-” that Republicans didn’t okay raises for the roughly 35,000 UW employees who were expecting them.

The fight over DEI initiatives reflects a broader cultural battle playing out in states such as Florida and Texas, where Republican governors have signed laws banning the use of DEI factors in making admissions and employment decisions at public colleges and universities. Similar proposals have been made in nearly a dozen Republican-led states.

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Harm Venhuizen is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.