EDITOR, Daily News:
Thank you to everyone who participated in the public testimony meeting last week hosted by the University of Alaska Board of Regents. As many of you are already aware, the University is considering merging the University of Alaska Southeast into either University of Alaska Fairbanks or University of Alaska Anchorage. This idea comes after many years of financial struggle. If this idea is adopted, it certainly would have a negative long-term impact on our local and Southeast regional economy.
The university budget has been cut consistently for the past 10 years. Since fiscal year 2011, the unrestricted general funds allocated to the university budget has been cut by $60 million, a decrease of almost 20%. Last summer, the governor made it clear that he wants to cut the budget an additional $70 million over the next three years. For FY21, he proposed a reduction of $25 million to the UA budget; the Legislature voted to increase that amount by $12.5 million, but then the governor vetoed that increase.
With these steep cuts, the university has had to be creative with its own budgeting. Last week during its board meeting, the regents approved this year’s budget, which includes staff layoffs, executive furloughs, suspended pay increases, and the elimination of 40 academic programs. Unfortunately, this will have a snowball effect as students affected by those changes leave the UA system, taking their talent and tuition outside the state. Statistically, it is more likely that they will not return to Alaska.
The regents did not decide to merge UAS with either UAF or UAA. Instead, they agreed to delay the decision until October and spend the next few months conducting an in-depth analysis of merging UAS and UAF. The review should include input from stakeholders, and I will let you know if any additional public comment and testimony periods come up.
As always, if you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to contact me at Rep.Dan.Ortiz@AKLeg.gov or call my office.
REP. DAN ORTIZ
House District 36