A two-year budget recommendation by Gov. Pete Ricketts is "a good starting point" for coming talks with state lawmakers, University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds said.

The university, which operates four campuses and the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis, would receive a 2.6 percent increase in its state appropriation for the 2019-20 year under Ricketts' plan.

That equates to a $15 million bump in state funding next year, which would cover salary and benefit increases to university employees, according to the governor.

In the second year of the biennium, Ricketts proposed a 6 percent hike to NU's appropriation — roughly $34.5 million — to also help cover increases to salaries and benefits, a priority for recruiting and retaining top faculty.

At the end of the biennium, NU's baseline appropriation would be $609.2 million under the governor's plan.

Ricketts' plan would not fund estimated increases to utilities and other operational costs, however, creating a potential recurring funding gap of $4.9 million, which NU could manage through further cuts or tuition increases.

NU is tentatively scheduled to go before the Legislature's Appropriations Committee on March 4.

Bounds said in a statement that NU has "done everything possible to protect our priorities of affordability and academic excellence" while absorbing three rounds of budget reductions in the last two years.

But, he said NU remains committed to being a driver for economic development in Nebraska.

"We know our budget work is not over," Bounds said. "But the best way to grow our state and solve the urgent workforce crisis facing our communities is to invest in one of Nebraska's most powerful economic engines: the university."

Regent Tim Clare of Lincoln, who will become the Board of Regents chairman later this month, said NU is focused on its mission of educating young Nebraskans and helping build the state's economy through research and workforce development opportunities.

"I'm confident that we can work together with the governor, legislators, business leaders and partners across the state on a shared vision for growth," Clare said.

Ricketts' budget proposal also calls for increases to the Nebraska State College System, as well as the state appropriation for community colleges.

The state colleges, based in Peru, Wayne and Chadron, would receive a $1.6 million — 3.1 percent — increase in the first year of the biennium, as well as a $3.2 million — 6.2 percent —  increase in the second year.

The total appropriation for the state colleges would be $54.8 million at the end of the biennium.

The pot of money for Nebraska's community colleges would increase 2 percent next year and 4 percent in the second year of the biennium, according to Ricketts' plan, bringing the total appropriation for the six community colleges to $102.6 million at the end of the 2020-21 fiscal year.

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

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.