University seeks smaller budget hike

Posted: Thursday, February 20, 2003

FAIRBANKS - The University of Alaska Board of Regents has submitted its annual budget request, asking for a $13.6 million increase in general state appropriations and $42.4 million more for capital projects.

The $13.6 million represents a decrease from last year's $16.9 million requested increase and the previous year's $18.2 million requested increase.

Speaking to business and community leaders in Fairbanks on Tuesday, University President Mark Hamilton said the reduction is due to the Legislature having given the university enough money to become more self-sufficient. He noted 40 percent of the university budget now comes from the state, compared with 60 percent a decade ago.

"I'll actually ask the Legislature this year for less money than in any time that I've been here, because they have primed the pump," Hamilton said. "The burden is shared by the university instead of having to walk out there with our hand out."

University needs have not dropped, he said.

"It's just that we are now able to pay a whole lot more of it than we could have in the past."

The university's total proposed operating budget for the next fiscal year is $647.3 million, an increase of $35.6 million from the current fiscal year. Of that increase, $13.6 would come from the state general fund, $16 million from increased university income and $6 million from increased federal and other nonstate grant money.

The university actually is requesting about $16 million from the state's general fund, but roughly $2.4 million of that is just funding being moved from other sources, so it doesn't count against the total increase. Of the $13.6 million, about $10 million represents fixed-cost increases in areas such as labor contracts and insurance. The remaining $3.6 million mostly consists of proposals to expand fledgling university programs.

The university received $8 million of its $16.9 million increased request last year and $10.6 million of its $18.2 million increased request the year before.

Pat Pitney, the university's director of budget and institutional research, said some new programs the university considered worthy were minimally funded. She said the $3.6 million requested this year to expand programs would be used for nurse training, student recruitment and retention proposals, and improvements in information technology.

University funding will be addressed when Gov. Frank Murkowski introduces his budget proposals, which are due in early March. Murkowski Budget Director Cheryl Frasca said the department had received the university's proposal but had yet to form a response.

The university's $42.4 million request for capital improvements represents a marked decrease from recent years. Last year's request was for $221.8 million - the university ultimately received $84 million - and the total from the year prior was $88 million, of which the university received $29.3 million.

Pitney said the drastic reduction was due to the fact the university has split its list of capital improvements into a six-year plan that asks for $280.6 million in state funding, rather than just submitting all improvement proposals on the table at once and letting the Legislature sort them out.

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