University of Alaska regents prepare for budget cuts

FAIRBANKS — University of Alaska officials are working to prioritize programs as they face another round of cuts outlined in Gov. Bill Walker's budget plan.

The statewide university system would receive about $330 million for fiscal year 2017 under Walker's plan released Wednesday, reported the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. The new figure would reduce university funding by more than $15.7 million, or 4.6 percent, from the previous year.

Pat Pitney, Walker's budget director, told UA President Jim Johnsen and the board of regents about the "bold" plan that includes funding reductions.

"We have to demonstrate that we are efficient, but we also know that the size of reductions are going to impact programs. There's no way we can make the reductions that we've made and expect that we can do everything we've done in the past," Pitney said. "So it's going to be priority choices and significant change, coupled with the most we can get from doing business better."

Walker's plan does not include capital funding to complete the unfinished engineering building at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The university had requested $34.8 million to finish the work.

Pitney said the overall state capital budget plan of $195 million was "very austere" and "constrained."

"The governor was not comfortable in putting money in for the engineering building this year," Pitney said. "We have proposed working with the Legislature on a general obligation bond that has the opportunity to have funding for the engineering building."


Johnsen and the board of regents focused on the contingency budget planning process, which comes after the regents approved Johnsen's best-case scenario budget in November that asked for $350 million from the state.

Johnsen said he will continue to push for the university's full budget request, but he acknowledged that nothing was guaranteed.

"It's not unreasonable for us to expect even deeper cuts than what the governor has proposed," Johnsen said. "There's no question this is going to be difficult in that this is the third year in a row that there will be reductions."

Johnsen said the cuts will have a long-term effect on students, staff and faculty.

He told the board of regents that preserving the university's rural campuses, outside of Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau, is a priority.

Johnsen said his staff is compiling a list of programs based on their value that will go before the board for their consideration by January and for final approval in June.