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Board of Regents asks for $35.4 million hike

Deseret Morning News graphic

The State Board of Regents Tuesday voted to ask lawmakers for a $53.1 million increase in state tax money to higher education's base budget of $579.8 million.

The key figure in the proposed increase is $35.4 million in ongoing funds, far short of the $173 million higher education officials say they need.

"This is a more realistic approach," regents chairman Nolan Karras said of the lesser request.

Out of that smaller number, regents want $14.3 million for increased fuel and power costs and $5.1 million for operation and maintenance costs at 18 new buildings. Regents also want a $12.6 million supplemental increase for fuel and power, an amount separate from ongoing costs.

The total request for ongoing tax funds does not include a range of $10 million to $18 million Utah System of Higher Education says it needs for compensation increases. Regents want the 2005 Legislature to grant to employees on Utah's 10 college campuses the same pay raise that may be given to all state employees.

Implicit in the discussion about salary increases is the need for another hike in first-tier tuition, which will help fund increased benefits costs of 12 percent for health and 6 percent for dental.

Still uncertain is how much students will see in a second-tier increase, which school presidents want to spend how they see fit. Some have already said the total increase in tuition could be 10 percent a year for the next five years.

With the trend of ever-increasing tuition, regent Jim Jardine said this year's request of $1.5 million for need-based student aid is a "small gesture" toward ensuring equal access to a higher education.

One new number in this year's request is $3.7 million for retention of faculty and staff. It's looked at as bargaining money, to be dolled out to schools by USHE officials, mainly to keep key faculty from leaving Utah for higher paying jobs elsewhere.

Utah State University President Kermit Hall reports losing 157 faculty members over the past four years. They have been replaced and the school's total faculty has actually grown by 75, but not without the sting of having to reallocate school funds.

The new line item, Hall said, is about the ability to keep "skilled" people and, in some cases, the research money they bring.

Requests to lawmakers for one-time increases include $1.5 million for engineering and nursing initiatives and $1 million for software licensing and upgrades.

Also not included in the regents' request are funds for the Utah College of Applied Technology, considered the state's 10th institution. UCAT officials will make a separate request to legislators.

Regents approved a proposal from the Utah Education Network to separately ask the Legislature for $9.1 million in one-time and ongoing funds. UEN assists public higher education with things like an online library and video-conference technology.