UA gains some funding back, but still takes a budget hit

University of Alaska President Dr. Jim Johnsen

University of Alaska President Dr. Jim Johnsen

The House subcommittee on the University of Alaska budget accepted a smaller cut than the one proposed by Rep. Tammie Wilson last week, but rejected all efforts to reinstate funding for anything else.

Late Wednesday evening the committee chaired by the North Pole Republican recommended a total state general funding level of $300 million, up from the $288 million she put forward last week.

It’s still a cut more than twice the size of the cut in Gov. Bill Walker’s budget, which proposed $335 million. UA received $350 million in this year’s budget.

Including designated funds for the university system, federal dollars and other funding, the total UA budget will be $874.9 million. The University of Alaska Southeast’s Juneau campus will receive $43.8 million in total funding, down $714,800 from the current year. UAS’ Ketchikan campus will lose about $50,000 in funding, while its Sitka campus will lose just over $28,000.

The $288 million figure suggested by Wilson for discretionary funding only covered what UA determines to be “student instruction,” not research or any additional services, like the UAF Cooperative Extension or the University Fire Department.

The $12 million the subcommittee added back in Wednesday night won’t come close to replacing even research, UA President Jim Johnsen said.

He said the research budget alone is about $25 million, but that it brings in “more than four times that” in matching grants.

But just what will go under any budget won’t be decided by the Legislature. The Board of Regents have the ultimate say in how the cuts will be doled out, and Johnsen said work is already being done on various funding scenarios.

“We wouldn’t be responsible if we weren’t looking at contingencies,” he said.

So things like research, the fire department, the Museum of the North and UAF’s Cooperative Extension will likely be funded, at least in part, but will come at the expense of something else, he said.

It was a point that stung with the subcommittee’s two minority Democrats, who ran multiple amendments to reinstate either large chunks of funding or piecemeal programs.

“I’ve heard tonight, ‘Well, geeze, they can designate how they spend their money.’ That’s very nice, but there’s not enough money to go around,” said Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage. “I have never, in my life, seen such credible responses to the question of ‘Why do you need that research money?’ Boy, I feel badly for those professors and their students.”

Rep. Adam Wool, a Fairbanks Democrat whose district includes UAF, put forward a handful of amendments aimed at restoring funding for specific programs that fell outside Wilson’s original proposal.

The amendments included one to reinstate $1.4 million for the Museum of the North and another to replace the $750,000 for the fire department.

Wilson was critical of the amendments for specific programs because she said it’s ultimately up to the regents to decide how the money is spent.

Wool shot back, saying that wasn’t the message she sent when she proposed to only fund student instruction last week.

“You parsed it out so I’m going to parse it back in,” he said. “It’s just reinforcing my point that I don’t believe we should be cutting the university as much as we are. I think it’s detrimental to the university, to the state and to the community.”

As for the fire department in particular, Wilson noted that she was “not worried that they will not be able to get the funds that they need” because the department also draws money from its fire service area and the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

Every single amendment, including both of Wool’s related to the fire department and museum, was shot down along caucus lines, only garnering yes votes from Josephson and Wool.

The Republican-led Majority Caucus members — Wilson, with Reps. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, Liz Vazquez, R-Anchorage, Jim Colver, R-Palmer, and Neal Foster, D-Nome — stayed together on fending off any attempts to lessen the cut.

The subcommittees don’t take public testimony, but the room was packed with students and faculty Wednesday night. Some offices reported receiving more than 800 emails over the past few days with nearly unilateral support of the university.

The budget recommendation now heads to the House Finance Committee, which does take testimony on the budget, and then to a vote on the House Floor before heading to the Senate. The final number will ultimately be decided in a conference committee near the end of the session.

The Senate has already began work on the budget, with the Senate subcommittee on the University of Alaska budget holding its first meeting Wednesday afternoon.

The subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Pete Kelly, a Fairbanks Republican who worked for a number of years at UAF as its director of state relations, seemed more receptive to the university.

“Here you’ll probably be treated better than you have been in this building over the last few weeks,” he said to Johnsen.

The Senate subcommittee’s next meeting is planned for Monday.

• Juneau Empire state reporter James Brooks contributed information about the University of Alaska Southeast to this report.

More in News

A Princess Cruise Line ship is docked in Juneau on Aug. 25, 2021. (Michael Lockett / Juneau Empire File)
Ships in Port for the week of Sept. 25

Here’s what to expect this week.

People work together to raise the Xa’Kooch story pole, which commemorates the Battle of the Inian Islands. (Shaelene Grace Moler / For the Capital City Weekly)
Resilient Peoples & Place: The Xa’Kooch story pole — one step toward a journey of healing

“This pole is for the Chookaneidi, but here among us, many clans are represented…”

A bracket fungus exudes guttation drops and a small fly appears to sip one of them.( Courtesy Photo / Bob Armstrong)
On the Trails: Water drops on plants

Guttation drops contain not only water but also sugars, proteins, and probably minerals.

A chart shows what critics claim is poor financial performance by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, especially in subsidizing private industry projects intended to boost the state’s economy, during its 55-year existence. The chart is part of a report released Tuesday criticizing the agency. (MB Barker/LLC Erickson & Associates/EcoSystems LLC)
AIDEA’s fiscal performance fishy, critics say

Report presented by salmon industry advocates asserts state business subsidy agency cost public $10B

Police vehicles gather Wednesday evening near Kaxdigoowu Héen Dei, also known as ]]Brotherhood Bridge Trail, while investigating a homicide. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
Police: Woman was walking dogs when she was killed

JPD said officers are working “around the clock” on the criminal investigation.

In this photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, a Coast Guard Cutter Kimball crew-member observes a foreign vessel in the Bering Sea, Monday, Sept. 19, 2022. The U.S. Coast Guard cutter on routine patrol in the Bering Sea came across the guided missile cruiser from the People's Republic of China, officials said Monday, Sept. 26.  (U.S. Coast Guard District 17 via AP)
Patrol spots Chinese, Russian naval ships off Alaska island

This wasn’t the first time Chinese naval ships have sailed near Alaska waters.

An Alaska judge has ruled that a state lawmaker affiliated with the Oath Keepers, Rep. David Eastman, shown in this February 2022 photo, may stay on the general election ballot in November even though he's likely ineligible to hold public office  (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire File)
Judge keeps Oath Keepers lawmaker on November ballot

Judge ordered delaying certifying the result of the race until a trial scheduled for December.

Water rushes down Front Street, just a half block from the Bering Sea, in Nome, Alaska, on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022 as the remnants of Typhoon Merbok moved into the region. It was a massive storm system — big enough to cover the mainland U.S. from the Pacific Ocean to Nebraska and from Canada to Texas. It influenced weather systems as far away as California, where a rare late-summer storm dropped rain on the northern part of the state, offering a measure of relief to wildfire crews but also complicating fire suppression efforts because of mud and loosened earth. (AP Photo / Peggy Fagerstrom)
Repair work begins in some Alaska towns slammed by storm

ANCHORAGE — There’s been significant damage to some roads and homes in… Continue reading

Sniffen indicted on sexual abuse counts

Sniffen will be arraigned Monday.

Most Read