A push to increase funding for the University of Alaska system is underway.

University President James R. Johnsen on Monday arrived in Juneau and went quickly to work appealing to the Legislature for a $24 million increase.

Johnsen met with the House Finance Committee Monday afternoon, immediately after holding a press briefing. Johnsen stressed that putting money into higher education is a prudent investment into the state’s economy.

“Everybody, I think, knows without investment there can’t be growth,” he said. “When budgets are cut, when disinvestment occurs, services and programs inevitably get reduced.”

Johnsen is asking for $341 million, or a 7.5 percent increase, above what Governor Bill Walker is proposing. The university system budget has been cut by $61 million since 2014.    

Johnsen said the university has responded by reducing its workforce by 1200. He added the cuts have also forced the university to eliminate 50 degree and certificate programs.

Johnsen cited the system’s top-ranked Arctic studies program. He told reporters that for every dollar invested in Arctic research, another four are generated from outside sources.

“It enables us to attract world-class faculty, staff and students,” Johnsen said. “It also addresses very real issues affecting Alaska, so it’s highly relevant to living in the North. It also contributes-- pretty dramatically-- economic development in the state.”

Johnson added that he hopes the Legislature extends the Alaska Education Tax Credit, which expires in December.

The credit allows companies to contribute to certain education programs and institutions. Companies can then get credits against their state taxes.

Johnsen said credits have been generally, but not exclusively, applied to the fishing, mining and oil and gas industries.

House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, and Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, have each introduced bills late in last year’s regular session.

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