In what’s become a December tradition, leaders from the University of Hawaii went to the state Capitol on Tuesday to make their case to the House Committee on Higher Education for additional budget appropriations.

What UH President David Lassner got — this year and last — was a stern talking-to from Rep. Isaac Choy, who heads the committee.

State Rep. Isaac Choy listens to testimony during a University of Hawaii budget briefing in 2014.
State Rep. Isaac Choy listens to testimony during a University of Hawaii budget briefing in 2014. Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2015

Choy seemed particularly appalled at the university’s deferred maintenance backlog, which is currently $503 million — up from $487 million in 2013.

Choy suggested that perhaps UH had an “unsustainable product.”

“The amount of infrastructure we have is not sustainable, because these figures are increasing,” Choy said, suggesting that UH may need to reduce the square footage of its buildings and look at eliminating non-performing programs. 

UH figures it needs to spend $77 million annually on upkeep and improvements at its 10 campuses to keep from adding items to the deferred maintenance list. Last year UH received $44 million for such work.

“It’s a substantial cost, but we need to start digging in and we need to be realistic,” Lassner said. 

UH needs legislative approval to take out bonds for the work — a proposal that has been shot down in the past.

“We need your help,” Lassner said. “We can’t do it ourselves without your authorization.”

This year UH is asking for an additional $191 million appropriation from the Legislature in Capital Improvement Funds. Of that request, $138 million is to address deferred maintenance.

UH is also requesting an additional $16.2 million in general funds, including $5 million for the University of Hawaii Cancer Center and $3 million to help cover athletic program costs.

The university has 21 athletic programs — a higher number than most schools in its division, UH Athletics Director David Matlin said. 

UH also has high travel costs. In addition to flying UH teams to the mainland to compete, UH also pays visiting football teams from the Mountain West Conference $175,000 to fly their athletes to Hawaii.

“When we joined the conference that was the term of joining,” Matlin said. 

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