An effort is underway in the Alaska Legislature to find money to finish construction of the engineering buildings on the 2 largest campus's in the University of Alaska system.
During the 27th Alaska Legislature the project to build new engineering buildings on the 2 campuses was funded to the tune of over $100-million dollars but that was just half of the total amount of money needed to complete the project. Now legislation has been filed in the 28th Legislature to pay for the rest of the project. Senate Bill 40 was introduced by Senator Johnny Ellis from Anchorage. Ellis is a Democrat and is the Minority Leader in the Alaska Senate.
During Wednesday's Senate Minority Press Conference he said that "turning out Alaska trained engineers is absolutely essential to our resource based economy and our future as Alaskans." The project to expand the engineering buildings on both the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses was part of the Engineering Expansion Initiative adopted by the Universities Board of Regents back in 2007. Last year the Legislature approved funding to the tune of $58.6-million dollars for the building on the U-A-A campus and $46.3-million dollars for the building on the U-A-F campus. Ellis confirms that Senate Bill 40 seeks to allocate an additional $59-million for U-A-A and over $48-million dollars for U-A-F. He say's "it's money that we do have. It's money we should invest and I'm optimistic about what will happen this year". The project to expand the engineering buildings on both campuses includes renovations of existing space as well as new construction. One of the major themes of Governor Parnell's State of the State address earlier this month was fiscal restraint and the Republican led majorities in both houses of the Legislature have pledged to take that theme to heart.
However, one of the Co-chairs of the Senate Finance Committee acknowledged that finding the funding for the engineering buildings might be possible. Kevin Meyer didn't endorse Senate Bill 40 but during Tuesday's Senate Majority press conference he outlined a scenario where the money might be found. He said that "obviously we have a have a lot of capital project out there. The Governor proposed many and some he left off. Two that come to mind are the engineering colleges at UAF and UAA that were partially funded last year. If we want to complete them this year that would be $100-million dollars. so that's going to be a challenge if we only have say $200 or $250million dollars left for the capital budget."
In recent years there has been increasing interest in the University of Alaska's engineering offerings with enrollment increasing by over 50-percent between 2007 and 2010 and the Alaska Department of Labor is forecasting that there could be around 50 new engineering jobs in Alaska each year through 2018. That does not include the engineers that will be needed to fill existing jobs that come open due to retirement or turnover. Construction on the engineering buildings on both campuses is scheduled to get started this upcoming construction season. The 28th Alaska Legislature is in midst of the first of 2 sessions. The current session is scheduled to close in mid-April.