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NU budget hearing

University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds testifies before the Legislature's Appropriations Committee in 2018.

The University of Nebraska is in a place it hasn't been in several years, President Hank Bounds said Friday.

After consecutive years of recommended cuts to its state appropriation, Gov. Pete Ricketts recommended a 6 percent increase over the budget biennium, setting NU's baseline appropriation at $609.2 million going into the 2021-22 year.

"It's the best starting point we've had since I started here (in 2015)," Bounds told the Board of Regents at its first meeting of 2019.

While Bounds said the governor's recommendation covers salary and benefits, with increases factored in for NU's faculty and staff — roughly 80 percent of the university's total expenses — he cautioned the proposal would further add to a $55 million recurring budget gap.

According to estimates presented to regents, NU expects the utility costs across its four campuses and the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture to increase $1.4 million in fiscal year 2019-20, as well as another $1.5 million the following year.

NU is also figuring a $1 million increase to its general operations, in line with the consumer price index, Bounds said.

Considered together, NU's budget request exceeds the governor's recommendation by $4.9 million, which Bounds said means the university "would have to make additional budget adjustments, either in the form of budget cuts or tuition increases."

The Legislature's Appropriations Committee will release its preliminary budget next month, which will serve as the basis from which lawmakers debate the university's funding as part of the wider state budget.

NU is scheduled to make its case to the Appropriations Committee on March 4.

In other business Friday:

* Regents approved collective-bargaining agreements with the University of Nebraska at Kearney Education Association and the University of Nebraska at Omaha American Association of University Professors. The agreement included a 2 percent increase to compensation packages for members of both unions that fit into NU's budget projection.

* Pepsi will continue to be the official soft drink supplier for UNL and Nebraska Athletics for another decade. Regents approved the deal, which is expected to generate nearly $1.8 million in revenue per year.

* A $40 million renovation to Mabel Lee Hall will become a $46 million renovation. Bounds said $6 million in private donations will allow UNL to install more educational technology in the classroom building.

* Regent Tim Clare of Lincoln succeeded Regent Rob Schafer of Beatrice as the board's chairperson. Regent Jim Pillen of Columbus was unanimously elected vice chair and will succeed Clare as chair in 2020.

* Friday marked the first meeting for Regent Elizabeth O'Connor and Regent Barbara Weitz, both of Omaha. They are the first women to serve on the board since 2003.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.

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