In the face of University of Alaska budget cuts, state lawmakers weigh next steps

Legislative Finance Director David Teal testifies before the House Finance Committee in February. On Monday, Teal told lawmakers in Anchorage that the Legislature could affect the University of Alaska budget by setting separate appropriations for different university campuses. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

As the University of Alaska faces up to $70 million in cuts over three years, state lawmakers are trying to figure out what role they’ll play in shaping the university’s budget.

A group of state representatives and senators learned more about what they can do during a meeting they held in Anchorage on Monday.

David Teal, the Legislature’s top budget analyst, noted that the Legislature can steer money to different parts of the university. It can do that by separating the university budget into separate lines, known as appropriations.

“When the Legislature creates its appropriation structure and increases the number of appropriations, it often does it to limit movement of funding,” Teal said.

When the entire university budget has one appropriation, the university president and regents determine how the budget will be spread across campuses.

But there were two appropriations this year. The Legislature included a $25 million cut to the Fairbanks and Anchorage campuses, as well as to the central administration. And the University of Alaska Southeast in Juneau and 13 community campuses were given a separate appropriation with no cuts.

Fairbanks Democratic Rep. Adam Wool said having separate appropriations can increase lobbying of lawmakers.

“If next year, there are more than one — or three or four (appropriations) — that will really even more pit each campus against each other, vying for the same pie — who can get the bigger piece,” Wool said.

University officials are considering ways to make the cuts under an agreement between university regents and Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

Dunleavy points to university budget cut agreement as a model

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