Capitol report
 

February 3, 2023 

Lawmakers begin to look closely at the Governor’s proposed Operating Budget

This week in the Capitol, the legislative bodies gathered together for a State of the Judiciary update from Supreme Court Chief Justice Daniel Winfree. Legislators in both the Senate and the House have begun reviewing the Governor’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The standing finance committees have received overviews of the operating and capital budgets, while the agency finance subcommittees are taking a deep dive into their respective agency’s operations and management plans.

State of the Judiciary

Supreme Court Chief Justice Daniel Winfree gave the annual “State of the Judiciary” address to a joint session of the Legislature. He shared his perspectives as a long-time employee of the court system, emphasizing the need for an independent branch of the Judiciary insulated from the politics of the Executive and Legislative branches. He noted that the court’s case backlog, caused by courthouse closures during the COVID-19 pandemic, is slowly decreasing and that the court system may expand its use of online hearings in place of in-person proceedings. The address was met with support from both the Senate and the House. Senate President Gary Stevens noted in a follow-up press briefing that this speech was “the finest speech I think I have ever heard from a chief justice.” Winfree, the state’s first “Alaska-grown” justice, is required to retire later this year at the age of 70.

UA in the Capitol

Both the Senate and the House finance committees have begun the process of examining the Governor’s proposed FY 24 operating budget. Over the last few weeks, lawmakers heard from experts on the state’s FY 24 revenue forecast, and they are in the process of looking at budget specifics now. The Office of Management and Budget has been sharing the details of both operating and capital budgets. 

As part of the budget review process, both legislative bodies asked the University of Alaska system to share the status of our facilities’ deferred maintenance needs. In summary, the university system owns 394 of the state’s 2,400 facilities and has the largest maintenance need of all state agencies. Our deferred maintenance backlog totals $1.5 billion, more than three times any other agency. Deferred maintenance refers to the “correction of deficiencies from the cumulative effect of renewal, repurposing and renovation projects that have not been carried out”. These are critical projects necessary to extend the useful lifetime of our facilities. High-priority deferred maintenance projects include replacing heater and electrical systems in 40+-year-old buildings, replacing leaking roofing, repairing fire alarm systems, and bringing buildings up to code compliance. The UA system is taking steps to consolidate our footprint by selling or demolishing under-utilized buildings. Additionally, by coupling multiple maintenance and restoration projects together, we are maximizing return on smaller maintenance operations budgets to extend the service lives of our buildings. However, a reliable funding source is required to adequately maintain our facilities and to reduce the system's overall deferred maintenance liability. Facility maintenance funding extends facilities’ life spans, reduces future operating costs, leverages federal and private funds, and improves safety, energy efficiency, accessibility, and overall student success. See here to view the Senate Finance hearing and here to view the House Finance hearing. 

In addition to budget discussions, lawmakers are very interested in the University’s historic land grant transfer approved by Congress. Adrienne Stolpe, the University of Alaska’s Director of Land Management, joined both Senate and House Resource committees to share the status of the transfer. As it sits, Congress recently authorized the university system to receive 360,000 acres of state-selected federal land. Land owned by the university may be used to generate revenue from which the university system directly benefits. Now that the transfer has been authorized, the university must work with the State Department of Natural Resources to select which parcels the university will receive. The work is expected to be completed in the next 4 years. See the Senate Resources hearing here and the House Resources hearing here

What We are Watching

The House University of Alaska Finance Subcommittee will hold its first meeting next Friday. During the meeting, lawmakers will hear from representatives from the university system who will share the systems’ proposed FY24 operating budget. Tune in at 9:00 am Friday, February 10.

Next week’s calendar:

Monday, February 6

  • 12:00 pm - Lunch and Learn: University of Alaska Ted Stevens Legislative Internship Program
  • 9:00 am - Senate Finance: Senate Bill 54: ”Appropriations: Supplemental; Reappropriations, Amending”

Wednesday, February 8

  • 1:30 pm - House Finance: Presentation: “Federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) Update”
  • 1:30 pm - Senate Labor & Commerce: Workforce Challenges in Alaska] 

Thursday, February 9

  • 1:00 pm - House Transportation: Presentation: “DOT&PF Unmanned Aircraft Systems Update / Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration”

Friday, February 10

  • 9:00 am - House University of Alaska Finance Subcommittee: Presentation: “Overview: University of Alaska Financial Overview”

For more information, contact Director of State Relations for the University of Alaska System Chad Hutchison, cell 907-378-3946, email clhutchison@alaska.edu. You can also follow the University of Alaska Government Relations on our Twitter page.