Budget crowds space for sports

For those who have been anxiously waiting for a new sports arena to materialize at UAA, the wait might have just gotten longer.
Last August, a Title IX complaint was filed against the UAA Athletics Department. It stated that the department supplied inadequate coaching for female sports in comparison with their male counterparts, that less money was allocated to female sports overall, and there were significantly less locker rooms for women’s teams than men’s.
“The new sports arena fixes everything with regards to the lockers,” Vice Chancellor for Administrative Services Bill Spindle said. “We’ve always known that we can use more lockers and better lockers. The new sports arena would have lockers for every sport except hockey – which will be staying where they are.”
The Office for Civil Rights signed a Voluntary Resolution Agreement with UAA, which resolved the filed complaints, as long as UAA compiled an independent commission to investigate and report its findings to the OCR by May 1. Chancellor Fran Ulmer organized the commission in mid-January.
The university has until August 3, 2009 to begin implementation of any plan required by the commission. If the university fails to comply, the federal government could cut funding to the university.
Spindle said as far as the Title IX request goes, if the university does not have the means to begin construction on the new sports arena by August, then it will figure out a way to expand the Wells Fargo Sports Complex locker rooms to be inclusive of all women’s teams. He would not give further detail as to what such an expansion would entail.
“We hope, we really hope, that [the legislature] will give us the money to build the arena,” Spindle said.
Last year, as per the Board of Regents’ Capital Budget Request, the state legislature approved $15 million to design and prepare the site for a new 130,000 sq foot sports arena.According to the schematics posted on the UAA Web site, the facility would accommodate 11 of the 12 intercollegiate sports, and offer a spacious fitness center and a plentiful supply of lockers – both of which the Wells Fargo Sports Complex severely lacks.
With the approval and distribution of the $15 million last year, obtaining the additional monies needed to construct the new sports arena this year seemed a given. When Gov. Sarah Palin released her 2010 Operating Budget last December, however, it made no mention of the sports arena, nor did her proposed 2010 Capital Budget released May 3.
State Budget Analyst Mike Crabb said there was a small chance that the governor would change her mind.
“We are still amending the capital budget until the last day of the legislative session,” he said. “But right now, honestly, there is no plan that I’ve heard of [that] includes the UAA sports arena.”
Last year, the governor did not include the $15 million in her Capital Budget Request either, but the legislature wrote it in and passed it. After it was passed, the governor had the power to veto it, but did not.
“Even though the governor recommends the budget, it’s the legislature that puts together the final one,” Spindle said. “They don’t always follow what she says – they can add and subtract to it.”
If the governor decides to veto it, then the legislature can overrule her with a 2/3 vote.
Spindle said there was definitely a concern regarding the lack of funds noted in the governor’s capital budget request.
“She is worried about spending money, considering the economic conditions of the country,” Spindle said. “So she wants to put a damper on how much we spend.”
The 2010 House Finance Subcommittee’s UA Operating Budget was released last month, however, it was significantly less than the BOR’s request. In fact, there was a nearly $20 million discrepancy. Not everyone is ready to take this as a sign of budget proposals to come this legislative session, but it does have many feeling apprehensive.
UA legislative liaison Pete Kelly said in an e-mail that the House recommendations for the FY10 Operating Budget were not enough to cover UA’s increased costs. There was no money set aside to open the new buildings that were constructed in 2008, and $7 million less than the university system’s day-to-day expenses.
“Representative Anna Fairclough has recommended cutting $4 million from the governor’s proposed budget,” Kelly said, “which didn’t fully fund things like utility increases. but it did at least cover a number of priorities and fixed costs.”
By making such drastic cuts from the UA Operating Expenses Request, it is not certain how the Legislature will vote when it comes to the UA Capital Budget Request at the end of the legislative session. The request includes not only the UAA sports arena, but also the UAF Life Sciences Building and the much-needed new driveway at UAS.