Regents meeting centers on budget cuts

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Bracing for expected statewide budget cuts, including five percent cut planned by the senate for next year, the Board of Regents met in Anchorage last Thursday and Friday. Their talks centered on the university’s fiscal situation, as well as the second phase of Strategic Pathways, a plan to streamline university functions and consolidate programs.

For fiscal year 2018 the regents asked the state for $341 million to fund the university. This counters the governor’s proposed budget of $325 million.

“This is $52 million less than we had in FY15, so it’s a lot less,” UA President Jim Johnsen said before the meeting. “But the good news is, this time last year we were at $275 million coming out of the house subcommittee and it wasn’t until it went to the full house committee that it went to $325 million.”

The university has seen a $53 million reduction in state funding over the past three years. This has resulted in the cutting of over 900 positions and and 50 programs, Johnsen told the regents.

Johnsen and the board’s biggest concern remains potential cuts to be handed out by the senate.

“The senate is really well organized with a lot of very experienced people and they’re talking about a 5 percent cut,” Johnsen said.

This would drop the university’s budget to $309 million. Johnsen and the board are concerned that if this proposal goes into conference during this session that the final number will be somewhere between $309 and $325 million.

“That’s a big delta there,” Johnsen said. “Now the folks in the senate can say ‘Hey it’s only 5 percent, I mean anyone can come up with a nickel,’ well it’s a nickel plus the 14 percent reductions we’ve already taken.”

The senate is proposing a five percent cut this upcoming fiscal year, a four percent cut the next year and a three percent cut the year after that, Johnsen said. With the legislature responsible for voting on the final number, Johnsen and the board are preparing for more cuts down the line.

“This threat was already real, but now it’s very very real,” Johnsen said. “We’re doing our best to figure out how we can get the House to move the number up to the regents number request and hopefully we can keep as much of that as we can as the process goes forward.”

Strategic Pathways, as a way to restructure the UA system to save money amid ongoing cuts, is a three phase program. Options for phase II were discussed by the regents during the meeting exploring eight areas of focus. These are: e-learning, fisheries, community campuses, university relations, health, human resources, student services and institutional research.

“We’re a pawn in a very important game for our state,” Johnsen said. “I don’t mean to use the word game to trivialize it at all, in the sense that we’re dealing with very serious issues.”

The university is part of the four large budgetary sections also health and social services, education and transportation.

“They say down there, [these are the] ‘drivers of the budget,'”Johnsen said. “Of course, when I hear the word drivers, I quickly pivot and talk about how critical we are as drivers of our state’s economy and driver’s of our state’s future.”

Fairbanks Representatives Kawasaki, Thompson and Guttenberg are all members of the finance committee, Johnsen pointed out, emphasizing UAF’s role in the state.

The legislature will vote on the final budget within the next few weeks.

No decisions regarding Strategic Pathways were made during the meeting. Johnsen clarified this meeting was to communicate narrowed options for phase II.

A final decision for phase II will be made at the regents meeting in June.

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