ANCHORAGE (AP) -- University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton warned of budget ''carnage'' if a spending plan now under debate in the state House is adopted.
One of the mostly like cuts: the UA scholars program, which guarantees free tuition to Alaska high school students finishing in the top 10 percent of their class. It's aimed at keeping Alaska's brightest in the state.
''That would hurt,'' he said.
Hamilton, speaking from Fairbanks, and Anchorage School District Superintendent Carol Comeau appeared in a joint video press conference to make their case for financial support of education at both levels.
Gov. Frank Murkowski has proposed cutting $27.8 million in state support for kindergarten through high school education next year and boosting the UA budget by $10.3 million. In the current budget, schools receive $769 in general fund money and the UA system $206.1 million.
The House Finance Committee on Saturday approved a budget adding $20 million more to public schools -- including the $10.3 million Murkowski had designated for higher education. Lawmakers considered amendments to the spending bill Tuesday.
Hamilton said he hoped the Legislature would add more money for K-12 schools while supporting the governor's request for the university. House lawmakers have posed the funding as an ''either-or'' question, Hamilton said.
''It's a false dilemma, that somehow the funds have to be divided -- university and K-12 -- as though they were the only players involved,'' he said. He compared the argument to an encyclopedia salesman who says a parent's choice is between buying the books or rearing an uneducated child.
''Obviously there are other choices,'' Hamilton said.
Every public opinion poll shows education overwhelmingly is the priority of Alaskans, he said, and it was important to authors of the state constitution.
''The priorities have already been set. Before there was a state, there was education and there were educational concerns and there was a University of Alaska,'' he said.
Both Hamilton and Comeau suggested legislators should address the issue of finding other revenue.
''I think the public is ready to have a serious discussion about meeting the constitutional mandates and how we're going to get there,'' Comeau said.
Alaska has $22 billion in a savings account and the university is being treated like a bank robber, Hamilton said. Alaskans should be given the opportunity to participate in future of the state, he argued. Hamilton, who earns well in excess of $200,000 annually, said he is willing to pay taxes.
''My message is: You can tax me, you can sin tax me, you can head tax me. I guess you can't tourist tax me. You can do a personal income tax, do a sales tax, you can do, Legislature, what you need to do to make this state as exciting and as promising as the one that absolutely dropped me to my knees 15 years ago when I saw this marvelous place,'' Hamilton said.
The alternative is a return to the 1990s, when the university saw 10 years of minimal budget increases, he said.
''In four years, legislators have given us almost exactly $12 million above fixed costs and obligations,'' Hamilton said. The university has been able to add new programs in critical Alaska needs such as nursing, related health fields and teacher programs, he said.
The budget under consideration would have the effect of reducing the UA budget by $12 million after accounting for fixed costs and inflation, Hamilton said.
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