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Despite a looming fiscal gap, University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton is pitching his case for more state funds for higher education.
Hamilton made his annual address to the Joint House and Senate finance committees Wednesday, seeking another $16.9 million increase in state funding for the university.
The money would fuel the economic and educational machine that will deliver Alaska to a strong future, Hamilton said.
"I don't believe there is any possibility to save ourselves into prosperity," Hamilton said.
But opponents in the Legislature point to a projected hole of roughly $1 billion in the state budget and to a Constitutional Budget Reserve that state officials forecast by 2004 will no longer be able to fill the gap.
Hamilton said the University of Alaska withered in the 1990s. Morale and enrollment were down, as were general university revenues and matching funds from other sources.
In fiscal 2000 there was a modest state increase for the university, Hamilton said. In the following two fiscal years the university received most of the $16.9 million increases it requested from the Legislature.
The results have been dramatic with the university able to recruit 50 percent more graduates from Alaska's high schools and to double the number of Alaskans returning to the university from out-of-state schools, Hamilton said.
The university also used those state funds to help leverage large increases from other sources, he said.
"More students mean more tuition, more corporate donations, more federal funds, more foundation grant funding, etc.," Hamilton said.
The total university budget from all sources could rise to $620 million next year, up from less than $400 million in fiscal 1999, if legislators fund the latest UA request, Hamilton said.
But supporters of the increase are in for a tough ride because of the state budget shortfall. Both the House speaker and the Senate president have expressed doubt that the university will get what it wants.
"I'd say it has pretty tough sledding," said Senate President Rick Halford, a Chugiak Republican. "It's facing significant downward pressure."
Halford and House Speaker Brian Porter, an Anchorage Republican, said the direction of the Legislature is to hold spending flat with any increases to be offset by cuts.
But Fairbanks Republican Sen. Pete Kelly, co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, does not believe there will necessarily need to be corresponding cuts for the university to get its money.
Kelly, a supporter of the full funding request, said he believes the university will receive a "significant amount."
Negotiated salary increases of 2.6 percent represent $5.7 million of the request, and an additional $3.8 million is for fixed cost increases for items such as utilities and library books.
The additional $7.2 million is to meet industry demands in areas that include business, health, engineering, teacher education, natural resource management, and research, Hamilton said.
Some of the funds also would be for recruitment and retention of students and technology upgrades.
University of Alaska Southeast Chancellor John Pugh has said much of the funding increase for UAS would be devoted to new hires in the liberal arts, business, construction technology and elementary education.
Other UAS-specific programs in the budget request include a marine welding program at Sitka and an associate's degree program in forestry at Ketchikan.