Budget update: March 25, 2020

March 25, 2020

Jeff Richardson

— by Dan White, chancellor

Thank you to the many who are working hard to keep the University safe, classes delivered remotely, and our buildings lit and warm. Many things continue to transform on campus as we pivot around COVID-19 and work through required changes to courses and labs. As we mobilize and implement these changes, the work is shifting. In some areas there may be no apparent activity, even though many staff and faculty are hard at work from a remote location.

With the shift from working on-site to working remotely, and offering limited services due to reduced staffing and facility closures, things will change. Many things will return to the way they were in the not too distant future. Some changes, however, will be adopted where we find they are just a faster, better, and/or cheaper way of doing things. How can some of these “legacy” changes create efficiencies for us in the future? While I think we could say that we cannot address our long term budget issue during a global pandemic, I would postulate that this may be the perfect time. 

Just as a matter of course, we will start to generate savings. Not knowing how long our modified operations will be in effect, it is hard to say how much will be saved, but every little bit helps. I think reduced costs as a result of reduced or changed work will make dent in the deficit. Unfortunately, lost revenue, slowed research spending, and reimbursements are likely to compensate for that. Where I think we stand to benefit is in the current innovation that is going on. More pedagogies are being developed for remote delivery. More classes are online. But the innovation is about everything. We may arrive at better ways of food service and delivery, building monitoring and maintenance, timekeeping and billing and in person (or not) meetings. 

Our travel has come to a screeching halt. What if it returned to only 20% of what it was because our new remote communications are not that bad after all? I think that is just the start. Everyone I know is looking for alternative ways to get their work done and be more efficient about it. Innovation may come out of necessity on the practical front as well. For example, UAF is looking at the possibility of 3D printing ventilators or face masks to help fill the global shortage. What else might we create that helps us serve our mission more effectively and efficiently?

While we are busy innovating to gain efficiency, in Juneau we have had some positive traction with the budget process. In the Capitol report released on March 22 it discussed House Bill 205 (HB205) that sets university FY21 state funding at $289.5 million in unrestricted general funds. This is $12.5 million below this year’s budget, which is a $12.5 million increase due to the original compact agreement that proposed a $25 million reduction in FY21. The Senate intends for the university to use the additional $12.5 million to modernize, reorganize, create efficiencies and continue academic program reviews. No capital, deferred maintenance, or debt service funding currently exist in the budget for UA.

The Senate bill also proposes to split UA’s funding into two appropriations,$237 million for Statewide, UAF and UAA; $52.5 million for UAS and community campuses. The bill also includes intent language behind limiting the use of Reimbursable Service Agreements (RSA) to reallocate funds between community campuses. 

Lastly, HB235 was unanimously passed to extend the Technical Vocational Education Program (TVEP) for one year. The bill has been sent to the House for concurrence, and will then go to the Governor for his signature.  

Thank you for your efforts. Be well Nanooks!