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Community Perspective

Support a strong University of Alaska

There’s been much discussion and debate about the appropriate amount of state support for the University of Alaska. As a ‘finance expert’ with specific knowledge of UA (as a graduate, as adjunct professor at more than six campuses and as a former UA vice president of finance 2000-06), I support reasonable state services and budget support for them but not by Draconian and dysfunctional cuts while paying out what I consider extraordinary Alaska Permanent Fund dividend payments.

The permanent fund earnings reserves can be a source of moderate budget support while downsizing and making public services more efficient over time and while we work on other budget and service discipline and broader-based revenue enhancements in a methodically planned, strategic and tactical manner.

This is true for the university budget, and I agree with President Jim Johnsen that deep cuts will permanently and significantly harm an already challenged fiscal scenario for UA. Knowing that some cuts will be inevitable, I urge them to be minimal and for the governor to respect what is reported out of the Legislature. My wife and I have personally given significant contributions (including funding an endowment) to UA, and while serving as an executive officer of various banks and Alaska Native corporations, I advocated for and successfully influenced millions of dollars of private sector contributions to UA. I intend to continue to do so.

I also served as treasurer for the UA Foundation and was a trustee for several years advocating for private support and advanced fiduciary investment practices and entrepreneurial partnering, intellectual ownership and competitive research. I also worked on the university’s land grant issue, trying to gain equity for UA, which is long overdue and currently nowhere near equitable when compared with other states.

In short, I know from personal experience that there is no short-term funding alternative to supplement the state operating budget support for UA, though everyone continues to seek alternative revenue solutions, operating efficiencies and reductions in redundancy of significant and heretofore mandated services in multiple locations. The university gets it and will work toward the gradual realignment necessary to modernize the system.

I also voice support for a single appropriation to the university. While legislative intent and administrative direction to elevate workforce development is a worthy objective, the strategy to bifurcate direction through separate appropriations is a crude, ineffective and inefficient manner to achieve such a goal in my opinion and in prior past experience.

Managing budget allocations and oversight/approval by the Office of Management and Budget is not efficient, effective or motivational. I fear that political, regional and rural funding acrimony will result in reduced financial security for the community campuses — the opposite of the desire intended. The job of allocating limited resources and preserving or enhancing outcomes is more efficiently left to the Board of Regents and the executive teams representing UA (and especially community campuses) and adhering to legislative/executive influenced direction.

I have worked closely with all regions and major academic units of UA and especially with the Schools of Management, College of Business and Public Policy, ISER, the Small Business Development Center and the Business Enterprise Institute. I cannot emphasize enough how linked and supportive our UA system is to our state and our citizen success and hope that our legislative and government leaders can and will support UA. I urge the governor to please support the appropriation efforts of the Legislature to keep UA from permanent harm due to lack of funding — for our children’s sake and for our own.

My advocacy and my plea are both personal and professional. I am convinced that UA will be making extraordinary consolidation and efficiency moves to keep it a viable solution to higher education needs in our state. 

Joe Beedle, retired, is the former president and CEO of Northrim Bank.

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