PORTLAND (AP) – The University of Maine System’s top administrator says he plans to ask the state for “hundreds of millions of dollars” in the years ahead to help make the system competitive with other universities.

Chancellor Joseph Westphal said he has yet to put together a specific plan, which would likely include bond proposals and other funding methods. He said his first priority is to complete a planned reorganization that would free up an estimated $12 million a year to pour back into the system.

“I want my state to think in terms of the future,” Westphal said, noting that Connecticut recently spent $2 billion to $3 billion on its state school system and New Hampshire invested $400 million to $500 million.

As Maine’s population drops in some of the more rural areas, university campuses will need top-notch facilities to keep students in state and attract more from away, Westphal said.

“If we don’t invest in the university system, people will continue to leave,” Westphal said.

The university system has an annual budget of $500 million, but looming budget gaps would require increased funding, tuition hikes or measures such as layoffs.

The current reorganization, said Westphal, aims to offer high-quality education through specialized niches available at different campuses. The estimated $12 million in savings, he said, would be reinvested in the system, but the Legislature and governor also would be asked to provide additional funding.

State Rep. Glenn Cummings, D-Portland, said Westphal had alluded to a need for increased investment at a recent meeting of the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee.

“If the moves he’s making now creates a correct impression that they are using their resources extremely wisely, then when he does ask for more funding, with a clear vision of what he wants to do, he will have more credibility,” said Cummings, co-chair of the committee.

Sen. Neria Douglass, the Senate co-chair of the committee, noted that Maine just finished cutting millions from the state budget.

“I definitely want to see us be competitive, I don’t think that necessarily means spending money,” said Douglass, D-Auburn. “I think it’s important to talk about the (reorganization) plan first, money second. Let’s see how this first round of plans goes, and then let’s see where the second goes.”

AP-ES-09-09-04 0217EDT

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