FAIRBANKS — Gov. Mike Dunleavy sent a letter to the University of Alaska system Monday claiming “some” people are incorrectly characterizing his cuts to university funding.
“The conversations ahead require honest and open dialogue, and that starts with using accurate numbers,” Dunleavy wrote.
The governor proposed cutting 41 percent, or $134 million, of state funding from the university as part of his amended fiscal 2020 budget. According to numbers coming from the UA Board of Regents, projected overall revenue — state, federal and other — for fiscal 2019 sat at $771.8 million. By these numbers, the governor categorized his 41 percent reduction in state funding as only a 17 percent cut to the university’s overall budget.
“I don’t pretend that 17 percent isn’t significant; I know that it is,” Dunleavy wrote. “However, it is not the 41 percent reduction to the overall university budget that some are reporting.”
Dunleavy was unavailable to comment directly on where he had heard the incorrect references to a 41 percent cut to the overall budget, but spokesman Matt Shuckerow said there have been a number of instances.
“Details matter and the way things are communicated matter,” Shuckerow told the Daily News-Miner on Tuesday. “There have been different people at different times that have communicated those numbers differently, whether on purpose or by accident.”
Shuckerow clarified that the governor’s letter was not unusual and that it is just a part of his overall efforts to “reach out to Alaskans” about the budget proposal.
“When it comes to stakeholders connected to the budget, the governor, in different capacities, has connected with them,” Shuckerow said. “The University of Alaska community is very closely connected to the state of Alaska, so that was part of his outreach effort to share with them the broader philosophy behind the budget.”
Outside of state allocations and student tuition, the university gains much of its funding from federal dollars and grants. However, these funds are often directed to a particular area, such as research, for example. State funding is different in that the university is able to use it anywhere in its operating budget.
When asked about specifics of funding within the university system, Shuckerow noted that he doesn’t see enough attention on why the budget is being cut in the first place.
“A lot of people want to make this conversation about the ‘how’ and ‘what’ and ‘where’, but the governor thinks it’s very important not to forget the ‘why’,” Shuckerow said. “I know a lot of people want to make this about different programs and specifics, but the overall issue here is that we’re out of savings.”
Shuckerow added that Dunleavy sees room for improvement in the university, as with many other state services.
UA President Jim Johnsen was traveling Tuesday and unavailable for comment. However, in statements over the past three weeks since Dunleavy’s budget was released, Johnsen has often referred to a 41 percent reduction specifically in state funding for the university, as opposed to a 41 percent reduction to the overall university budget.
Over the past four years, the university has seen a cumulative budget cut of approximately $195 million, resulting in approximately 1,200 layoffs and the loss of many whole programs. In his Feb. 13 budget, Dunleavy proposed slicing the university’s state funding to $193 million from this year’s $327 million. In a recent meeting with reporters, Johnsen referred to these cuts as potentially catastrophic, noting that if the Legislature approves the cuts, the university would likely have to close campuses.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.