Regent budget gives UAF programs extra $6.2 million

Jeremia Schrock/Sun Star Reporter
Nov. 15, 2011

On Nov. 2, the University of Alaska Board of Regents approved a budget request for more than $923 million for fiscal year 13, which begins July 1, 2012. The 2013 budget request addresses student advising, deferred maintenance and a 3.5-percent salary increase for non-unionized employees across the University of Alaska system. It also emphasizes teacher education, workforce development and job training in the fields of engineering, health and bio-medicine.

The regents sent the nearly $1 billion budget to Governor Sean Parnell, who will incorporate the proposal into his yearly budget. The governor is expected to send his 2013 budget to the legislature in mid-December.

The regents’ budget includes funding for 25 “high priority” programs throughout the UA system. Almost half of those programs are located at UAF and would be funded with more than $6.2 million. Several of the higher priced programs would receive almost $1 million each in additional funding. These programs includes $800,000 for the engineering program, $843,000 for the Alaska

Veterinary Partnership Program and $873,000 for Student Support Services, which oversees student advising.

The UA budget also includes a series of “cost-control measures” that began this year. One includes a $7 million “cost avoidance” in the employee health care plan, according to UA Public Relations Director Kate Ripley.

The system intends to achieve this “cost avoidance” by increasing premiums. Avoiding cost is not the same as saving money, Ripley said. “It’s not savings, we don’t have a pot of money that’s got seven million dollars in it,” she said in a phone interview.

The UA system spends more than $60 million a year on health insurance, Ripley said. Since the system is self-insured, that means UA foots the bill. While health care in the system is expected to increase in cost over the next six years – with internal estimates saying the cost will be $131 million by 2017 – such “cost-avoidance” is only slowing the increase, not stopping it.

UA employees pay for 17 percent of their health costs, while the system picks up the remaining 83 percent.

The University of Alaska Museum of the North, located at UAF, would receive $463,000 to hire an Alaska art curator, a collections manager, two graduate student research assistants and a technician. “It is inappropriate for a university museum to have such a

significant [Alaska art] collection with so many items on display in a variety of venues and not have a curator who can oversee their care, documentation, interpretation, scholarly research and management,” the budget request said.

Under the proposed budget, the board would put $137.5 million toward deferred maintenance across the UA system. Determining which campuses receive funding will be based on various factors, including building age. The budget also includes funding for Alaska-focused energy research and fossil fuel research. The budget would also fund research into responses to potential oil spills in the Arctic and ocean acidification impacts on Alaska’s fisheries.

The budget would also provide more than $547,000 to hire support staff for the research vessel Sikuliaq. The Sikuliaq (which means “young sea ice” in Inupiat) is a state-of-the-art scientific research vessel under construction in Wisconsin. The funding would be used to create three new positions, including a marine technician, an HR and purchasing specialist, as well as a warehouse staff person. The vessel is expected to launch during the summer of 2012 and will be ready for scientific research by 2014.

From left: Regents Michael Powers, Fuller A. Cowell, Kenneth J. Fisher, Kirk Wickersham, Jyotsna Heckman, Mari Freitag, Patricia Jacobson, UA President Patrick Gamble and Regent Bob Martin. Not shown: Regents Tim Brady, Mary K. Hughes and Carl Marrs. September 2011, Juneau, AK. Photo by Kate Ripley.

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