ANCHORAGE - Gov. Tony Knowles is backing a request from the University of Alaska regents to boost spending for the state university system by $16.9 million.
Knowles made the announcement in a crowded library at the University of Alaska Anchorage on Monday, the first day of finals for students.
It's unclear, however, whether the Legislature will again approve a big boost in university spending. The university system last year got a $13.7 million increase in its operating budget, after what Knowles called years of underfunding.
"It's hard to tell," said Sen. Gary Wilken, a Fairbanks Republican who will sit on the Finance Committee and chair the capital budget subcommittee. "I can tell you that for the Interior delegation, it will be a top priority. We need to keep that momentum going with (university president) Mark Hamilton."
"It's just too soon for me, at least, to know how the Legislature is going to respond," agreed Rep. Bill Hudson, a Juneau Republican who will serve on the House Finance Committee.
The request comes on the heels of an announcement last week that Knowles will ask the Legislature for $10.5 million from the general fund to offset decreases in state aid to kindergarten through 12th grade education. He also sought a series of smaller increases for other education and child care programs.
The university increase would boost university general fund spending from $188.8 million to $205.7 million.
The governor said the budget hike would help recruit and retain Alaska students, and help train Alaskans for the highly technical and professional jobs of the global economy.
The regents' budget endorsed by Knowles earmarks $2.5 million toward getting the university system ready to produce workers for a natural gas pipeline or missile defense system, two major projects that may be in Alaska's future.
It calls for $4.2 million for job training in education, health care and information technology.
Meeting the increases mandated in university labor contracts adds $5.1 million.
Other increases would go toward student advising and support services, distance education, new equipment and increasing business efficiency.
But while Knowles went along with the regents on the operating budget, he didn't endorse their top requests for capital spending, including $8.5 million for new classrooms at community campuses, $12.1 million for classroom and lab improvements, and about $8 million for expanding the museum at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Knowles' administration officials said the K-12 funding request announced last week is needed because, under the formula used to dole out money to school districts, basic state aid for education will decline next year.
The formula will yield about $4.3 million less because districts will receive more in federal aid and because local property assessments have increased. Also, $6.2 million in grants lawmakers approved this year to help districts prepare for the new high school exit test won't automatically be repeated.