UA Budget will be finalized by adjournment on Sunday

The Alaska Legislature in Juneau will be working feverishly this week to finalize a uniform version of the University of Alaska FY11 operating budget.

The Board of Regents, Gov. Sean Parnell and the House and Senate Finance Committees have all submitted different versions of the operating budget.

The Board of Regents submitted its FY11 operating budget request to the governor last fall. The budget proposed by UA totaled $352.7 million; a $24.5 million, or 7.5 percent increase, over the current year’s operating budget. The governor’s proposed budget for UA is a $12.4 million, or 3.8 percent increase. The HFC’s proposed budget is lower at $11.8 million, or 3.9 percent increase, while SFC’s proposed budget is higher at a $14.1 million, or 4.3 percent increase.

“The budget now being discussed in legislature is smaller than the Regents’ request. The legislature treats (the University) in the same way they treat other state agencies; that is they won’t do 100 percent for us in any case.” Provost Michael Driscoll said. “The budget must pay more to do the same things we are doing now, which is a key component of the request. There is also demand for things we are not doing now or we aren’t doing enough of.”

It is now up to a Conference Committee to negotiate the differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget and no additional funding will be added at this step.

The BOR always aims first to obtain a budget that will cover the fixed costs of the UA system. Funding for the base requirements are adjusted on a yearly basis. These include compliance mandates, utility cost and compensation increases. It is highly likely that the chosen budget for next year will fall below fixed costs. As a result, fees may be levied on students to make up for the difference.

“We are going to have to look at the university’s budget on both the expense and revenue sides,” UA’s Director of Public Affairs Kate Ripley said.

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“Raises in student fees and tuition are a possibility if (the UA system) does not have enough money to cover its basic fixed costs.”

Some major differences exist between the House and Senate’s proposed budgets under the priority programs category. The Senate would like to put $1.4 million toward science, technology and math programs while the House has proposed nothing for those programs. Instead, the House has  put $960,000 toward the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program, which will go directly to the Department of Education and Early Development. The Senate has allocated $300,000 for climate programs, which includes the marine advisory program; the House has proposed no money toward such programs. Both the HFC and SFC have, however, agreed to put $950,000 toward energy outreach and research.

Members of the House and Senate Finance Committees were unreachable for comment.

Both the House and Senate have proposed intent language to be included in the budget asking the university to reduce its reliance on state funding. The conference committee will have to work out differences in the language.

“(The university) is interested in sustainable budgets too, so their intent language is definitely something we would follow,” Ripley said.