The House Finance subcommittee on the University of Alaska budget, chaired by Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, unveiled an operating budget proposal for the university system that is $2.4 million leaner than Gov. Sean Parnell’s amended proposal Tuesday afternoon.
Muñoz said the subcommittee had “accepted” an amended version of Parnell’s budget request, which added some $8.15 million in university receipts from the $939.7 million requested in his initial operating budget proposal for fiscal year 2014 — but that it had reduced that addition from unrestricted general funds by slightly more than $2.4 million.
“We’ve also reverted to the single appropriation, allowing the university the ultimate flexibility in determining how to allocate their funding,” said Muñoz.
The $407,800 in UGF and $50,000 in general fund and mental health dollars proposed by the subcommittee in lieu of Parnell’s additional UGF request for the university system have not been allocated, meaning that if approved, the university will have discretion in how it uses that funding.
University President Patrick Gamble, testifying at the subcommittee meeting to close out the House Finance review of the university system’s budget, praised the subcommittee’s decision to provide that money as an unallocated appropriation. He said it would make it easier for the university to “absorb” the $2.4 million reduction from the funding level proposed by Parnell.
“That single appropriation allows us to find those dollars … and that is key to allowing us to absorb the dollars that we’re talking about here,” Gamble said.
The subcommittee’s operating budget proposal would see $366.4 million out of the proposed $945.2 million university budget come from UGF — an increase of about $8.15 million in UGF authorization over the so-called FY13 “management plan,” the level of expenditures authorized at the beginning of the current fiscal year.
Rep. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, offered a motion, to which there was no objection, adopting the subcommittee’s findings and report.
But Reinbold made it clear that she is not happy with the level of state spending to support the university.
“I think we just need to look at how we do business at the university in general,” Reinbold said. “This is a lot. … With declining oil production, I’m very alarmed.”
The University of Alaska constrained its tuition increase last year to 2 percent, Gamble noted. He said the university is trying to lower costs and raise money to support its operations without sweeping rate increases.
“We’re going to try to keep it as low as humanly possible and find other alternatives to make up the difference,” said Gamble. “That’s the university’s goal right now.”
Gamble brought up the notion of bringing in more money from students by attracting more students from abroad, or by increasing fees for expensive degree programs — something he said has been effective at other schools.
“People are paying because they want that degree, and they’ll pay extra for that good engineering degree or science degree,” said Gamble.
Gamble added, “In order to make up for these decrements, we’re looking at anything and everything that might either save us some money or earn us some extra revenue.”
Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, the House minority caucus’ only representative on the subcommittee, said he is also concerned about the budget, but added, “I encourage and I applaud the university’s keeping tuition down.”
Rep. Eric Feige, R-Chickaloon, said little during the meeting, but he had a warning for Gamble at the end of the closeout.
“I don’t expect to see the same generosity next year, simply because the state won’t have as much money next year,” Feige said.
After the meeting ended, Gamble said that if the university budget is cut from its FY14 level next year, “We have to live with it.”
Gamble added, “I’m not one for throwing myself across somebody’s desk and saying the world as we know it is coming to an end. You know, we’ve got to make it work.”
One item that is not in the proposed budget coming out of the subcommittee this year is funding for the position of the University of Alaska Southeast’s director of the Center for Mine Training.
Muñoz said after the meeting that she plans to introduce an amendment in the Finance Committee herself to provide UAS with $90,000 to fund the position.
“There were no amendments, additions, allowed in this process,” Muñoz explained. “They’ll have to be taken up with the full committee. And it’s my intention to bring that amendment to the full committee.”
Muñoz joined the Finance Committee after last November’s elections, making this her first time chairing a Finance subcommittee.
Muñoz will also chair the university budget subcommittee and the subcommittee for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation budget schedule, her other current chairwomanship, next year.
• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 586-1821 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.