Thursday, February 6, 2014

UAA| Enough already ...

I must admit to almost choking last night upon hearing the following as the lead on the 5:00 pm news. "UAA Needs $2.7 million Before Opening Alaska Air Center."
The Alaska Airlines Center on the University of Alaska-Anchorage campus is set to open this summer but the $2.7 million needed to pay for the arena is not yet approved. ... The Alaska Airlines center has already cost more than $100 million .... Athletic director Keith Hackett said Governor Sean Parnell would like to see the $2.7 million operating budget for the center cut nearly in half, to about $1.6 million. ... "[But w]e're hopeful, we're always going to be hopeful, that the [additional] funding is going to be put into place,” he said.
Are you kidding me?
  • The state budget for this year is already $2.2 billion in the red, 
  • the budget for next year already is projected to be more than another $1 billion in the red, even before adding on "legislative priorities" (the Alaska euphemism for "earmarks"), 
  • both of those two together (combined with the Governor's proposal to transfer $3 billion from the Constitutional Budget Reserve to the PERS/TRS accounts) will drain nearly a third of the state's cash budget reserves in two years alone, 
  • the University of Alaska - Anchorage's own Institute of Social and Economic Research reports that in a single year Alaska's sustainable spending level has fallen by 10% (from $5.5 billion to $5.0 billion), 
  • the state has already sunk more than $109 million of state money into the new Center, fully funding a project that in any other part of the country would have required at least 50% alumni and private donor buy-in before a spade of dirt was turned,
  • not to mention that the University system itself already has admitted that its business model is unsustainable and is in the process of cutting programs, and that UAA has gone out of its way to adopt kangaroo-court like policies and procedures that hugely discourage private giving to its programs,
but yet, UAA now wants the state to provide an additional $2.7 million per year -- because you know once we start down this path its not going to stop -- to cover operating costs?  

What happened to the previous assurances, made during the $60 million bond drive and requests for additional state funding, that, once built, the facility would pay for itself through events and sponsorships? What happened also to the assurances that this building would not impair other campus programs?  With UAA now engaged in the "prioritization" of its academic programs, is someone seriously going to try to argue that throwing more state money at the Center isn't coming at the expense of other programs?

The end.  Enough.  Stop the insanity.  Not only should the Legislature reject UAA's request for an additional $1.1 million in funding, the Legislature should root out the $1.6 million that's in the budget now and strike it out.  Use that toward funding the proposed $11 million in additional funding for the Base Student Allocation (BSA) that the Governor requested in the State of the State, but is not included in his original budget; use it toward funding the constitutionally mandated payments to meet the state's PERS/TRS obligations; use it, god forbid, to reduce the deficit that the state otherwise is going to run this year and that, ultimately, will be borne in one way or another by future generations of Alaskans.

Use it for anything other than letting UAA off the hook one more time in doing what every other higher ed institution in the US is doing right now -- reaching out to (and learning to treat fairly) alumni and private sector donors.  When Tom Case, Keith Hackett and no doubt, Steve Nerland and Don Winchester come down to Juneau or call on the phone and ask the state yet again to pitch in more of other people's money to support the project, tell them that its time instead to put in some of their own and that they should redirect their remaining talents and efforts to helping the University reach out to its alumni and other private donors to step up to their share.

In a 2011 report prepared at the request of UA President Patrick Gamble, a group of outside experts assembled by him to take a look at the University concluded 
The condition of institutional advancement—the management of private giving—at the University of Alaska is mediocre at best. Despite some large gifts (mostly of a corporate variety), UA does not have a history of a well-organized contemporary approach that is standard for a comparable system.
Instead, UAA's approach, as former Athletic Director Steve Cobb was once reported to have said about UAA Athletics, historically has been this: “it doesn’t matter how much money this Athletic Department loses, the state is awash in money and we are just going to get a blank check.”

Steve Cobb is now gone; so is the state being "awash in money."  It is time for a new approach at UAA.  

As I said late last year in a different context but that many supported generically: 
The simple truth is Alaska has outstripped its financial capacity to add any more new spending to its mix. Just as each of us face in our own lives, Alaska only has so much earning power and the fact is we are now spending well past our current income.

When each of us face that point in our own lives — when we spend past current income — we institute limits. We don’t buy a new truck, take the next vacation, buy a new cabin or even add HBO/Showtime to our cable line-up.
Of necessity, the same steps are beginning to occur now that we have crossed the line at the state level. Fiscally speaking, at current spending levels Alaska is running on fumes. The state’s fiscal structure can’t tolerate layering on more programs; instead, it is time to start facing up to the fact that even the current programs are going to need to be rolled back.
That admonition applies equally as well here.  Its time for UAA to grow up and become a real university system.  The Governor and Legislature should not enable them by continuing to take out the wallet when the system comes to its parent and asks for more money.  Its time for them to go out and earn it on their own.