Regents urge university administrators to trim funding request

Posted: Friday, September 17, 2004

University of Alaska administrators want the Legislature to appropriate $141 million for construction and upgrades at campuses next year but the Board of Regents is counseling a more moderate request.

Regent Joe Usibelli likened the hefty figure presented to the board Wednesday as a "Hail Mary" pass in football - a high risk, all-or-nothing attempt.

Administrators will revamp the budget request to spread it over two years.

Pat Pitney, UA director of budget and institutional research, said the amount is the cumulative result of the university asking for $40 million in state support for university projects and improvements for two years running but receiving less than $4 million.

More than half of the request is for three projects - the Integrated Sciences Facility in Anchorage, the Biological and Computational Sciences Facility in Fairbanks, and the Lena Point School of Fisheries facility in Juneau. All received initial funding through a state bond issue in 2002.

Another $10.5 million would pay for safety improvements and building code upgrades. The budget calls for $32 million for renewal and renovation.

Regent chairman Brian Rogers suggested cutting the number down to at least $120 million.

"If it's $140 million or nothing, I think I know what the answer's going to be in Juneau, which is nothing," he said.

Others suggested the two-year plan. Legislators would be more likely to back it and there also would be a chance to get some of the project money into another bond issue that legislators might consider in 2006, they said.

"If we look at it as, this is a two-year request, I don't think we lose anything in terms of presentation," Rogers said.

The official request has to be approved by the regents at their next meeting.

The lack of state funding is also leading the university to consider putting out its own bond issue to self-finance construction projects. UA President Mark Hamilton gave a presentation on the subject, noting that the university is capable of taking on more bond debt without endangering its rating.

"The utility of our revenue bonds is something that's valuable and something that ought to be a tool," he said.

The university's proposed operating budget request inspired less debate at the meetings. Hamilton said administrators want $242.7 million in state funds next year, up $11.6 million, or 5 percent.

He said the 5 percent number represented an accord he had reached with Gov. Frank Murkowski about the amount of increase the university needs annually.

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