FRANKFORT — Kentucky's public colleges and universities are requesting a collective 4.6 percent increase in state funding next year that includes a $25 million wish list for academic programs in case the state's bleak financial picture brightens.
The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education on Friday unanimously signed off on sending the universities' request to Gov. Steve Beshear, who must craft his state budget recommendation to give to the legislature by late January.
Higher education leaders described the request as "modest" and "realistic."
"We're not asking for a lot of new resources, because they're not there," said Dan E. Flanagan, vice-chairman of the council.
Leaders of the eight public universities and Kentucky Community and Technical College System primarily hope the state can at least keep its current $1 billion-a-year commitment to higher education, even after federal stimulus money goes away in fiscal year 2012. The governor and legislature used $70 million in stimulus funds to avoid cutting the universities' state funding this year.
"The governor has made it pretty clear to us that he will preserve or attempt to preserve it," Council President Robert L. King told the council members Friday.
King, who also has met with key legislators about the proposal, said none have "indicated they think the requests are out of line."
The universities essentially are asking to hold steady the state's support for operations and instruction over the next two years. The state faces an expected budget deficit of $1.2 billion in that time.
"I am very grateful for the compromises every campus had to make," King said.
They are asking for slight increases to cover debt payments on new construction and $27.3 million next year to cover upkeep and utilities for newly constructed buildings. The General Assembly didn't approve those funds in the last biennium.
In total, the two-year budget request calls for increases of 4.6 percent next fiscal year and 2.7 percent in fiscal year 2012. But officials acknowledge they're unlikely to get all of that.
The request builds in $25 million in each of the two years for "strategic initiative funds" on the off chance state revenue perks up. The universities have suggested specific ways to use the money to bolster academic programs, especially those that help them reach goals of retention and graduation. But that is a wish list.
"We can use this as a way to plant a flag in the sand and say to the legislature: 'We know you don't have a lot of money right now, but when you do, here's what we want to spend it on,' " King said.
Not counting that $50 million over two years, the requests amount to a 2.2 percent increase the first year and 0.4 percent in the second.
How successful the universities are in securing state funds will play a key role in their next major financial debate: setting tuition for the 2010-2011 academic year.
Last spring, the council approved tuition increases of 5 percent for the universities of Kentucky and Louisville; 4 percent for the other four-year comprehensive universities; and about 3 percent for KCTCS.
"A significant deviation from that ... would cause me heartburn," said council member Glenn B. Denton, who added that despite budget strains on the schools, he didn't want to see them shift the burden to students.
Also Friday, the council approved the universities' priorities for capital projects for the next two years.
And it signed off on several newly proposed projects, including three at UK — one of which was the $7 million Wildcat Lodge student housing that will be called the Wildcat Coal Lodge, per the instruction of the donors who are providing the funding.
The council must approve projects costing $600,000 even if they are paid for by private donations.