Senate proposal calls for zero funding increase for university system

Posted: Thursday, April 18, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The state Senate's operating budget chief has introduced a proposal to give the University of Alaska the same amount of state funds as lawmakers approved last year.

Two Fairbanks senators vowed to push for a boost in UA funding despite the proposal unveiled Tuesday by Anchorage Republican Sen. Dave Donley.

The state House has already passed its version of the operating budget. The House budget, like the Donley plan, called for no increase in university funding.

University officials say flat funding would mean program cuts because UA has to swallow a $5.7 million rise in costs from previously negotiated contracts and another $3.8 million in other fixed cost increases above the usual inflation.

''These costs are not optional, they represent the normal increases involved with maintaining level services,'' said a UA statement in reaction to the Senate proposal.

The Senate Finance Committee will take public testimony on the state budget before debating amendments, likely on Friday. The two Fairbanksans on the finance committee, Republican Sens. Pete Kelly and Gary Wilken, said they would try to increase UA funding, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

''I'll probably be offering some amendments and will try to find some fund sources over the next few days,'' Kelly said Tuesday.

Wilken, whose district includes the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus, said UA has been able to use every dollar in increased state funds over the last few years to leverage some $3 in other funds like federal money and corporate grants.

''I hope we remember that as we consider the university budget,'' Wilken said. ''And that it is different from other agencies.''

But the Senate, like the House, has called for a ''hold the line'' state budget in light of the serious fiscal shortfall. So increases in some areas may have to be met with cuts in others.

The university's board of regents and the governor have requested a $16.9 million increase for the university next year. That amount appears unlikely to be approved.

Along with the salary increases and other fixed costs, UA officials argue that the request is needed to meet industry demands in areas that include business, health, engineering, teacher education, natural resource management and research.

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