The president of the University of Alaska is requesting nearly $352 million from the Legislature to cover increases in contributions to the state retirement system and the expansion of academic programs, he said Wednesday.
The request is up from $282.5 million last year, an increase of more than $69 million. The largest portion of the increase is for contributions to the state retirement system.
The total university operating budget, fed by state, tuition and other income sources, is estimated at more than $880 million for 2008.
University President Mark Hamilton discussed the funding at a Board of Regents meeting in Juneau. The board plans to continue lobbying legislators today.
Hamilton said since the retirement system was changed last year by the Legislature, he expects lawmakers to increase contributions.
"It's your Visa card," he said. "You ran it up. Pay it off."
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The president is asking for an increase of about $37 million to cover this year's contributions to retirement system. The cost of the UA retirement system in 2008 will be about $90 million, up from $13 million in 2003, according to university spokeswoman Kate Ripley.
"Before we do anything else, we have to pay that bill," she said.
Also being requested is money to expand programs providing degrees and training in areas deemed essential to the state's growth by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, such as nursing, construction, engineering, fisheries and computers. Hamilton is asking for $8.7 million for these programs.
"All the money I'll ask for this year is from a list by the Labor Department for Alaska's most-needed jobs," Hamilton said. "I can't provide more Alaskans for more Alaska jobs unless I have the money to do so."
Supporters of the budget increases say university funding, when adjusted for inflation, has decreased dramatically.
Charles Fedullo, spokesman for Gov. Sarah Palin, said the governor is committed to funding the university.
"It's very early in a long process," Fedullo said. "We're analyzing the university's request just like were analyzing the other department's proposed spending."
Will Morris may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org