Capitol Report 2019

The Capitol Report: September 27, 2019

Outreach and Advocacy Update

The Government Relations team has been busy engaging state and federal policymakers on behalf of the University of Alaska. With support and assistance from local campuses, we created exciting opportunities for political leaders to observe, engage and experience the important work of our university system. We are pleased to provide this update from a very eventful season.

Budget & Organizational Update
Governor Dunleavy signed the final FY20 Operating Budget in August, including a three-year budget agreement reached with the University of Alaska. The compact includes a $25 million budget cut this year, and an expected additional $45 million reduction in the next two years. The budget also contained language directing the Board of Regents to study transitioning UA from three separately accredited institutions to one single accredited institution. The intent language instructed the board to provide a report to the Legislature by December 1.
 
The Regents appointed a special subcommittee of the board to oversee structural reorganization. At their meeting earlier this month, the Regents formed 13 inter-university teams to conduct program reviews across the UA system this fall. You can find out more about this process on the New UA website.

Congressional Recess Brings Washington, D.C. to Alaska
During the congressional recess in August, UA hosted a number of senior federal officials including cabinet members, members of congress and key staff at UA campuses and research sites. Government Relations worked with faculty and staff from all over the system to develop these opportunities. Getting policy makers to Alaska and onto our campuses is a top priority. There is no better way to demonstrate the caliber of our people, programs and assets than through hands-on, direct experience. These visits also build relationships essential to UA’s future. Thank you to everyone who helped us organize these opportunities, and for your personal contributions to this critical component of our year-round advocacy effort.
 
Secretary of Education Visits UA
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos made two visits to the University of Alaska. First, UAA Chancellor Sandeen and Vice-Provost Herb Schroeder welcomed the Secretary and Senator Dan Sullivan to the Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program (ANSEP). The Secretary participated in a Q&A session with students attending ANSEP’s high school bridge program, and learned about the innovative program’s success in the area of STEM education.

The Secretary also visited Fairbanks to meet with UA President Jim Johnsen to discuss important issues in higher education.  She participated in a roundtable on workforce development co-hosted by UAF and the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce. UAF Chancellor Dan White welcomed the Secretary to campus, and Provost Anupma Prakash co-moderated a dialogue with industry and community stakeholders. The event showcased UA’s important role in career and technical education.

Congressional Delegation comes to UA
Alaska’s congressional delegation made several visits to the university this summer. Senator Lisa Murkowski and Deputy Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette flew to the west side of Cook Inlet to see the volcano and seismic monitoring stations on Mt. Spurr that are operated by the Alaska Earthquake Center at UAF. The center’s network of sensors is a vital part of seismic research and disaster preparedness in Alaska. Thank you to Dr. David Fee for arranging the site visit, and providing context to the Senator and Deputy Secretary regarding our continued advocacy for the U.S. Array network.

Murkowski also traveled to Delta Junction to visit the Mining and Petroleum Training Service’s (MAPTS) facility. The underground facility is a one of a kind training center. The Senator met with students, faculty, and industry partners to see how UA prepares Alaskans for jobs in resource industries. Thank you to MAPTS director Bill Bieber for showcasing this outstanding UA asset, and giving a first-hand look at what UA is doing to meet Alaska’s workforce needs.
 
Both Senator Murkowski and Congressman Don Young also visited UAF’s Geophysical Institute to learn more about the university’s work in the area unmanned aviation. The tour showcased technology being developed by the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration (ACUASI). The center is one of six FAA test sites for unmanned aircraft systems, and has a special emphasis on Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. Thank you to center director Dr. Cathy Cahill for highlighting this cutting-edge research and its numerous applications for government, industry and the scientific community.   

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler visited Fairbanks in August to hear about air quality and regulatory issues. At the invitation of Senator Dan Sullivan, UAF faculty presented testimony to the EPA at a public meeting on the air quality emissions known as PM 2.5. The testimony helped highlight an issue important to Fairbanks, and how UAF manages its own energy needs through its coal-powered Combined Heat & Power Plant.

Federal Agency and Congressional Engagement
Throughout the summer, the university also hosted a number of informative visits for the Department of Energy, congressional committees, and professional staffers. Here’s a few examples of the good work being done across the UA system to strengthen partnerships with congress and our federal funding partners.

  • UAF welcomed Dr. Chris Fall, Director of the DOE’s Office of Science, for two visits to Alaska to engage with faculty and researchers. Dr. Fall’s office has primary jurisdiction for the U.S. National Laboratories, and plays a major role in the Department of Energy’s research and program funding. Nettie LaBelle-Hamer, Deputy Director of the Geophysical Institute, took Fall and staff from Los Alamos, Sandia, and Pacific Northwest Laboratories to the North Slope. The group visited the Oliktok Point Research Facility and discussed on-going and potential scientific collaborations between the national labs and the university.

  • Dr. Fall also attended the Chena Hot Springs Renewable Energy Fair, and received a briefing from UAF Vice Chancellor for Research Larry Hinzman and Gwen Holdmann, Director of the Alaska Center for Energy & Power (ACEP), on UAF’s work with the Department of Energy. Vice Chancellor Hinzman also hosted Department of Energy Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Dwayne Bolton on campus and other locations around Fairbanks to highlight the university’s energy-related research.  

  • Staff from Senator Sullivan’s office toured UAA’s aviation training facility at Merrill Field. The program trains Alaskans for aviation careers including professional piloting, maintenance, and air traffic control. Its first-class facilities include state-of-the-art simulators, and numerous aircraft including a Boeing 727 cargo jet donated to the university by Fed Ex. Thank you to Denise Runge, Dean of UAA’s Community & Technical College, and her team at the aviation technology program for arranging the visit. The staffers also visited the Arctic Domain Awareness Center (ADAC), and learned about its important mission in the area of homeland security from director and retired Air Force General Randy “Church” Kee. They later visited UAA’s Business Enterprise Institute (BEI) and found out how to UA grows small businesses and expands entrepreneurship in Alaska from director Christi Bell and her team.

  • UAF hosted staffers from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for an in-depth look at a number of university research programs. The group spent several days on campus learning about UAF’s preeminent role in polar studies, and the nexus of Arctic and energy related research. Vice Chancellor Larry Hinzman was instrumental in facilitating the meetings and conversations. These engagements are critical as the Department of Energy considers reconstituting an Arctic Energy Office in Alaska.

  • Dr. Brad Moran, Dean of the UAF College of Fisheries & Ocean Sciences (CFOS), hosted a VIP tour of the R/V Sikuliaq and the Seward Marine Center. CFOS welcomed staff from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Senator Murkowski’s office. Sikuliaq is one of the newest vessels in the U.S. academic fleet, and one of the most advanced research vessels in the world. The visit was an excellent opportunity to showcase one of UA’s premiere research assets and to meet with the ship’s scientists, researchers and crew. In addition to the Seward visit, Dr. Aaron Dotson hosted the group at UAA to present NSF funded research in Anchorage.

These are just a few examples of the outreach and advocacy that has been happening over the last several months. Thank you to everyone who collaborated on these visits and helped showcase UA’s premiere assets and world-class research enterprise.

President Johnsen Addresses Southeast Conference
Earlier this month, President Johnsen and UAS Chancellor Rick Caulfield addressed the annual meeting of Southeast Conference in Sitka. The regional economic development group’s annual meeting attracts business, political and industry leaders from across Southeast and other coastal areas of Alaska. As part of the agenda, Jeff Jessee, Dean of the UAA College of Health, and UAS Provost Karen Carey participated in a panel on workforce development and health care solutions.

Governor Appoints Revak to Senate
Governor Dunleavy has appointed Anchorage Representative Josh Revak to the state Senate. Revak is an army veteran and former staffer to both Senator Dan Sullivan and Congressman Don Young. He has been nominated to serve-out the term of the late Senator Chris Birch. The Governor previously appointed Representative Laddie Shaw to fill the vacancy, but that nomination was rejected by the Senate Republican caucus. Under state law, vacancy appointments by the Governor must be ratified by the political party’s caucus in their respective legislative body. If Revak is confirmed, the Governor will appoint a replacement to fill his house seat representing south Anchorage.

The Capitol Report: August 9, 2019

Special Second Session Adjourns

The second special session of the 31st Alaska Legislature has adjourned. While lawmakers have returned to their home districts, they may still revisit some unresolved issues around the state’s spending plan and the Permanent Fund Dividend this fall.

Governor Signs Capital Budget
On Thursday Governor Dunleavy signed the revised FY20 Capital Budget but exercised his line-item veto authority to cut $34.7 million in spending, including $2.5 million for university deferred maintenance and $2.5 million for the Alaska Earthquake Center’s USArray initiative. These vetoes are disappointing given the strong justification, significant need and bi-partisan support these critical infrastructure projects received in the legislature. We did receive $5 million for deferred maintenance in SB19, the original capital budget that was signed in July. You can see a full list of the Governor’s vetoes here.

In the bill, lawmakers appropriated approximately $350 million back into the Alaska Higher Education Investment Fund through a budget mechanism known as a “reverse sweep”. In signing the bill, the Governor approved the use of the Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR) to reconstitute the Higher Education Fund and a number of other state designated funds whose balanced had been sweep at the end of the fiscal year. With the Higher Education Fund restored, this year’s performance scholarships, needs-based education grants and WWAMI medical school program funds are now available.

Supplemental Operating Budget Transmitted to Governor
The Legislature has transmitted a supplemental operating budget, House Bill 2001, to the Governor for his signature. The appropriations bill would add back $110 million to the UA’s FY20 operating budget. If approved this would set UA’s general fund budget for the current year at $302 million, $25 million below last year’s level.

The Governor introduced a proposal to cut $133 million from UA’s budget over the next two years - $95 million this year and another $38 million in FY21 at the Board of Regent’s meeting July 30th. Conversations between the Governor’s office and university leadership are ongoing. You can view the Board of Regents meeting here.

Policymakers Tour R/V Sikuliaq in Seward
On Thursday, the College of Fisheries and Ocean Science (CFOS) and UA Government Relations hosted staff from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, and U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski’s office for a tour of R/V Sikuliaq and the Seward Marine Center. Operated by UAF on behalf of NSF, R/V Sikuliaq is one of the newest vessels in the U.S. academic fleet, and one of the most advanced research vessels in the world.

This week’s visit was an excellent opportunity to showcase one of UA’s premiere research assets and to meet with the ship’s scientists, researchers and crew. Sikuliaq was in Seward loading “Jason” the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) designed and built by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute’s Deep Submergence Laboratory. ROV Jason will facilitate the retrieval of ocean seismometers that were deployed around the Alaska Peninsula last summer as part of Dr. Spahr Webb’s Alaska Amphibious Community Seismic Experiment (AACSE).

 

Senator Birch Passes
Legislators and many Alaskans were shocked and saddened by the unexpected death of Anchorage Senator Chris Birch. The Senator was in his third year serving in the legislature, and enjoyed a long history of public service across Alaska. An engineer by training, Senator Birch was a UA alum receiving his bachelors (class of ’72) and masters (class of ’79) degrees at UAF. His presence in the Capitol will be greatly missed. Our condolences go out to Pam, Logan, Tali and the entire Birch family.

The Capitol Report: July 29, 2019

Update from Juneau

Today is the 22nd day of the second special session of the 31st Alaska Legislature, and it looks like the legislature will complete their business by the end of this week.

House Passes Capital Budget
After two previous attempts, the House passed important revisions to the FY20 Capital Budget today. The legislation, Senate Bill 2002, was dubbed by lawmakers as “Capital Budget 2.0.” It authorizes use of the Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR), and reverses the fiscal year-end “sweep” of state designated funds, which left a number of critically important programs around the state unfunded. This required a ¾ super majority vote in both the House and Senate, and was an important compromise for this Legislature.
 
The bill restores 70% of the capital funding vetoed by the Governor, provides the state’s match for federal highway and aviation infrastructure projects, and funds the crime reform legislation passed during the regular session. The legislation also restores $7.5 million for university deferred maintenance, and $2.5 million for the Alaska Earthquake Center’s USArray initiative at UAF.
 
In passing the bill, lawmakers also reconstituted $350 million into the Alaska Higher Education Investment Fund, which ensures that this year’s performance scholarships, needs-based education grants and the WWAMI medical school program have a valid source of funding. The higher education fund was restored through a budget mechanism known as the “reverse sweep,” which prevents the endowment’s balance from being deposited into the CBR. It is estimated that 30% of UA students are relying on one of these financial programs for this fall semester.
 
The bill still must be approved by the Governor.

Senate Passes Operating Budget Fix
Today the Senate passed a supplemental funding bill House Bill 2001 which adds $110 million to the University of Alaska’s FY20 operating budget. This would set UA’s general fund budget for the current year at $302 million, $25 million below last year’s level. This budget will still need to be approved by the Governor who has continued to reiterate his proposal to cut the University of Alaska’s budget by $133 million over two years - $95 million this year and another $38 million in FY21.
 
The bill also restores $1.2 million in bond debt service for facilities at UAA and UAS. During the House and Senate floor debates on HB 2001, Rep. Adam Wool, Senator Gary Stevens and Senator Click Bishop spoke passionately about the importance of UA for our state’s future.
 
Importantly, the operating bill passed today funds the 2019 Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) payment at $1,600, setting up another potential show down with the Governor.
 
During this session Governor Dunleavy and the Republican Minority have argued that, because there are ample funds available in the Permanent Fund’s Earnings Reserve, the Legislature should follow the PFD calculation in current law – the so called “statutory dividend” formula – and pay a full $3,000 PFD this year. To date, the Legislature has been unwilling to support a PFD amount greater than $1,600 if it requires the Legislature to exceed withdrawing more than the 5.25% limit from Permanent Fund earnings. This limit was added to state law last year to enact a Percent of Market Value (POMV) approach to managing the Permanent Fund.
 
The House has introduced a “net dividend” approach. After all operating and capital appropriations are made - it is estimated that enough funds will remain to pay a $1,300 PFD. However, the compromise PFD legislation the House introduced and adopted this week approves an additional $170M from the Statutory Budget Reserve (SBR) increasing the dividend payment to $1,600. By agreeing to take funds from the CBR, the Legislature is relaxing their original policy position of not tapping any savings accounts to pay dividends this year. However the Governor has continued to insist on a $3,000 PFD. After today's vote, it is expected this issue will continue to cloud final resolution of the budget.

Senator Murkowski Calls for a Strong University
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski has joined the growing number of state and business leaders voicing support for the University of Alaska. Speaking to the policy group Commonwealth North, Senator Murkowski stated it is important for Alaska to have a strong university, and expressed concern about the Governor’s budget cuts. She highlighted UA’s key role in research, leveraging federal investment and solving issues facing Alaska. You can read her comments here. Thank you Senator for supporting our university!

Board of Regents Meet Tomorrow
Tomorrow the Board of Regents will meet to evaluate options for restructuring the university following their declaration of financial exigency last week. You can view the agenda here.

The Capitol Report: July 19, 2019

Greetings from Juneau

After almost a two-week stalemate over whether to meet in Wasilla or Juneau, the entire Legislature reconvened in Juneau yesterday to continue negotiations over a final budget package for the fiscal year that began July 1. Governor Dunleavy agreed to expand the subject of the session, which provides an opportunity to resolve a wide range of outstanding issues related to the state’s FY20 operating and capital budgets and the size of this year’s Permanent Fund Dividend. Most importantly for the University of Alaska, there is an opportunity to have the Legislature readdress the significant cut to our operating budget, the loss of merit and needs based scholarships, medical school funding, and important infrastructure funding.
 
Although you haven’t heard from us in several weeks, know that your government relations team has been continually engaged in the budget process, and is back boots-on-the-ground in the capital city this week advocating on behalf of this university and our state.

Budget Update
As it currently stands, the University of Alaska’s current FY20 state Operating Budget is $192.4 million, 41% less than last year. University leadership has been actively engaged with the Governor and the Legislature to broker a solution to this enormous and unprecedented funding drop.
 
Currently there are three appropriation bills before the Legislature – House Bill 2001 introduced by the House Finance Committee on Monday - and the bills introduced by the Governor today Senate Bill 2002 and House Bill 2002. The House proposal restores all of the Governor’s vetoes, fixes a number of technical funding problems that occurred in the capital budget, and provides for a Permanent Fund Dividend of approximately $1000. While the Governor’s bill would restore $5 million in UA deferred maintenance, and provide one-time funding for the Alaska Performance Scholarship (APS), Alaska Education Grant (AEG) and WWAMI medical school program, it does not provide additional money to our operating budget, nor does it restore the approximately $350 million that was “swept” from the Higher Education Investment Fund at the end of the fiscal year. Without the investment earnings generated by the fund, annual money for APS, AEG and WWAMI are in jeopardy.
 
The House proposal and the Governor’s bill are significantly different, but serve as bookends for negotiations that are expected to continue into early next week. The Senate and House Finance Committees held hearings today on the Governor’s bill. You can access committee materials and view those hearings here.
 

Student Scholarships and Financial Aid Still in Jeopardy
Yesterday the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on the administration’s decision to “sweep” the Higher Education Fund, Power Cost Equalization Endowment, and a number of other designated funding into the Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR). The Governor’s decision to broaden the list of accounts that are traditionally included in the end-of-year accounting sweep, has liquidated funding for everything from university merit scholarships, rural energy assistance, and vaccination programs. On the list of financial issues being negotiated in Juneau this week - which of these impacted programs should be restored for the current fiscal year, or should all funds be reconstituted through a “reverse sweep” mechanism. While a reverse sweep is the cleanest approach, moving funds back out of the CBR, requires concurrence of three-quarters of the Legislature, and support from the Governor.
 
The Governor has indicated that he would prefer to eliminate all of these funds, and require programs to compete with other government expenditure annually. This would be a significant change in state policy and is therefore a controversial issue within the Capitol. Making these important programs subject to the annual appropriation cycle, will undo years of legislative work designed to do just the opposite. The purpose of designated funds like the Higher Education Investment Fund is to provide the beneficiary program year-to-year continuity and a relatively stable source of funding.
 
During yesterday’s hearing Senate Finance Co-chair Bert Stedman called the administration’s new interpretation, “a chaotic mess.” Resolving these fund transfers will be a major issue during the remainder of the special session. You can view the hearing here.

Legislators Address Board of Regents
In response to the Legislature’s inability to override the Governor’s budget vetoes, UA’s Board of Regents met Monday to consider a Declaration of Financial Exigency, which would permit the university to rapidly discontinue programs and academic units, and to start the unprecedented process of removing tenured faculty. Senator Click Bishop and Representative Andy Josephson both addressed the meeting to express their continued support and interest in working with the legislature to readdress funding for the University during the special session. While the Board initially postponed action on the declaration until their July 30 meeting, that in light of Moody’s decision this week to downgrade UA’s credit rating by three notches and continued budget uncertainty, Board Chair John Davis announced this afternoon that he will bring the question forward at the meeting scheduled for Monday, July 22.

Former Governor Advocates Restoring UA Funding
Former Governor Frank Murkowski joined the growing number of state and business leaders calling for restoring funding to the university. In an op-ed he called on the Legislature to ensure the Alaska Performance Scholarship is secure, and stated restoring UA funding is important for the future leaders of Alaska. As a throwback, here’s what Murkowski said about UA in his State of the State address in 2006:
 
"...I took my entire cabinet to visit the Fairbanks campus of the University to see how the state could more effectively use the resources provided by the University in developing our human and natural resources. We learned more about how we could help the University and how the University could help all Alaskans."

The Capitol Report: June 14, 2019

Budget passes, Legislature adjourns

Yesterday the legislature adjourned the special session having reached agreement on an operating and a portion of the capital budget for the state fiscal year that begins a little over two weeks from today, on July 1st.

Lawmakers did not resolve differences on the size and funding for this year’s Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD), so not surprisingly, Governor Dunleavy immediately issued a proclamation calling them back into a special session to begin July 8th. The Governor has identified Wasilla Middle School in the Mat-Su Valley as the session location, but a final decision on location is heavily dependent on the House and Senate concurring to do business outside of Juneau, where they have existing infrastructure and staff support. The Governor held a press conference in front of the Wasilla Middle School this morning to discuss his decision, which can be viewed here.

Operating Budget 
On Monday, both the House and Senate concurred with the conference committee recommendations on the FY20 Operating Budget (HB 39). The University of Alaska’s budget remains unchanged from our May 17th Capitol Report. We are funded at $322 million UGF over two appropriations - $265 million towards UAF, UAA and Statewide and $57 million towards UAS and our community campuses.
 
Last night, the operating budget was transmitted to the Governor for his review and consideration. This morning the governor said he will be  “scrutinizing the budget to see where we can make reductions” and that a statement on those decisions should be coming shortly. He said they he would not be sending out “pink slips” to state employees today, as would be required, if budget action wasn’t expected to be finalized before June 30th. So while the governor technically has until July 6th (20 days excepting Sundays) to sign the bill or exercise vetoes, the approaching end of the fiscal year has compressed his review period.

Capital Budget
Yesterday the Senate concurred with the House’s changes to the FY20 Capital Budget (SB 19). For the university, the House transferred $2.5 million of our $10 million deferred maintenance funding to the Alaska Earthquake Center’s USArray Initiative at UAF. This action reduced our deferred maintenance appropriation to $7.5 million. However, the House also changed the funding source for the USArray and $2.5 million of the maintenance appropriation to the Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR).
 
These changes were part of a larger shift of more than $160 million in project funds from state general funds, to the CBR. Spending money out of the CBR, requires a higher vote threshold (3/4) versus the normal majority vote.  Ultimately, the House could not garner the 30 votes necessary, and so all CBR projects failed on a vote of 23-13. As a result, the bill that will be transmitted to the governor only contains $5 million in deferred maintenance funding for UA.
 
The budget as passed included several controversial items. In addition to the CBR funded projects, the budget also included unusual items impacting federal highway funding, the Power Cost Equalization, and potentially even the Higher Education Fund. While this is disappointing, both the governor and several legislators have expressed a desire to revisit these capital budget items after an agreement is reached on the PFD later this summer. We will be working with lawmakers and looking for new opportunities to address our critical capital needs at that time.

PFD Issues Remain
The major sticking point this session has been the amount and funding source of the 2019 PFD. Governor Dunleavy has insisted on a full $3,000 PFD per the traditional calculation formula in statute. Both the House and the Senate have rejected this proposal, citing both the deficit spending it would create and the other important state law that such a large draw would violate – the Percent of Market Value (POMV) statute that limits draws on the permanent fund’s earning to 5.25 percent annually.
 
The operating and capital budgets approved by the legislature this week – have no money in them for this year’s PFD. Resolving that issue will be the focus of the special session the governor called yesterday.
 
In preparation for that conversation, earlier this week the House and Senate appointed a Bicameral Permanent Fund Working Group to review policy options surrounding management of the Permanent Fund and the annual PFD. The group consists of four members of the Senate and four members of the House and will be co-chaired by Senator Click Bishop and Representative Jennifer Johnston. The group met twice this week and expects to present recommendations to the legislature by July 5th. You can view their most recent meeting here.

New Student Regent
Governor Dunleavy has appointed Cachet Garrett as the student representative to the UA Board of Regents. Garrett is an alumna of UAS and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in communications at UAF. We welcome Catchet to the board, and thank her for her service to the university.

UA Scholars Celebration
Last week UA President Jim Johnsen and the Board of Regents hosted a reception honoring the 20th anniversary of the UA Scholars Program. Former scholars, faculty and local dignitaries attended to celebrate the remarkable impact the scholarship has had enhancing higher education in Alaska. The event also included presentation of a legislative citation in the program’s honor. 

 

 

The Capitol Report: May 17, 2019

Governor calls special session

The regular session of the legislature ended Wednesday evening, and Governor Dunleavy immediately called lawmakers into a special session. 
 
Under Article 2, Section 9 of the Constitution of the State of Alaska, the Governor may call the legislature into special session for a 30-day period. Convening a special session narrows the agenda to specific issues for lawmakers to consider. Other legislation, which did not pass this session, will be rolled over to the next regular session of the legislature in January. The Governor’s proclamation limits topics of this special session to the FY20 Operating and Capital Budgets, appropriations for K-12 education, and criminal justice legislation.

Conference Committee Finalizes UA Budget 

On Monday, the Operating Budget Conference Committee reached agreement on the University of Alaska’s FY20 Operating Budget. The committee set the legislature’s final funding level for UA at $322 million unrestricted general funds (UGF) in two separate appropriations. This constitutes a $5 million reduction over the current year. The committee also adopted intent language encouraging the Board of Regents to study transitioning UA into a single accredited institution, and providing additional focus on the Educators Rising program, which recruits Alaska high school students to consider careers in education.
 
In a year of substantial budget reductions, the fact that the legislature’s final university budget is only a 1.5 percent decrease over the current fiscal year is very significant. Thank you to Chair Representative Neal Foster, Vice Chair Bert Stedman, the Conference Committee and the members of the Legislature for their work and support of UA. The Conference Committee remains open, and the Operating Budget will be one of the final bills passed during the special session.

Crime Legislation Compromise Reached

Lawmakers began the special session by convening a conference committee on House Bill 49, which makes significant changes to Alaska’s crime statutes. Addressing crime has been a major issue in the Capitol this year. The adopted compromise legislation effectively repeals a previous criminal justice reform measure known as “Senate Bill 91”. The 3-year old law had become a lightning rod for increases in public safety issues across Alaska. HB 49 increases sentences for several major crimes, and will likely necessitate reopening of a state correctional center.

Legislature Honors 20th Anniversary of UA Scholars Program

On Monday, the legislature passed a citation honoring the 20th Anniversary of the UA Scholars Program. The UA Scholars Program recognizes Alaska’s top high school graduates through awarding scholarships to attend the University of Alaska. In the past 20 years, the program has provided financial aid to more than 8,900 students, and has helped Alaska’s best students stay in state to attend college. Thank you to Representative Grier Hopkins for sponsoring this citation.

 

The Capitol Report: May 10, 2019

Budget Conference Committee Convenes

Today is the 116th legislative day. Lawmakers have five days to conclude their business without extending the session. If legislators do not conclude their work by next Wednesday, they can choose to extend the session by 10 days through a 2/3 affirmative vote in each body. The Governor also has the option of calling a special session on a narrower set of topics for the Legislature to consider.

Budget Conference Committee Convenes

The FY20 Operating Budget Conference Committee held its first organizational meeting on Tuesday. The six-member conference committee consists of Representative Neal Foster from Nome, who will serve as chair, Senator Bert Stedman from Sitka, who will serve as vice-chair, Senator Natasha von Imhof from Anchorage, Representative Tammie Wilson from North Pole, Senator Donnie Olson from Golovin and Representative Cathy Tilton from Wasilla.
 
The conference committee will be responsible for deciding the Legislature’s final funding level for the University of Alaska. The Senate has proposed $322 million unrestricted general funds (UGF) while the House proposes $317 million, a $10 million cut over the current year. The committee met this afternoon to take action on the budgets for six state departments, but deferred action on the University’s budget for a future meeting.
 
Now that the conference committee is meeting, the Legislature is operating under the 24-hour rule. Legislative hearings can now be publicly noticed just 24-hours in advance. In practice, this means hearings only need to be noticed by 4pm the day prior, even if they are scheduled to begin early in the morning. This rule helps speed up the process, but also creates a flurry of activity in the Capitol as things can change very rapidly.
 

Senate Passes Capital Budget

The Senate passed the FY20 Capital Budget on Wednesday. This year’s Capital Budget is very lean, leveraging $1 billion in federal funds through just $174 million UGF. In a bit of good news, the bill includes $10 million for UA deferred maintenance. Historically, the university relies on annual capital appropriations to address our facilities maintenance backlog, which now exceeds $1 billion. You can see a breakdown of the projects included in the Senate’s Capital Budget here. The House Finance Committee held its first hearing on the budget earlier this afternoon, and will likely release a new version of the budget in the coming days.

Vic Fischer Visits the Capitol

Constitutional framer and former UA Professor, Vic Fischer, visited the Capitolthis week. The House State Affairs Committee invited Fischer to address the committee on the Governor’s proposed constitutional amendments regarding a state spending limit, taxes and other issues. You can watch his testimony here.
 
Fischer is the last living delegate of Alaska’s Constitutional Convention, and has had a venerable career in Alaska public policy. He was the founding director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage, and served in the Legislature in 1980s. Recently he also wrote about the importance of the University of Alaska in an op-ed, stating “We cannot have an educated and capable workforce, or solid economic growth, without a strong university.” While in the Capitol, legislators also hosted a celebration of Fischer’s 95th birthday.

University Provides Teacher Training Update

On Monday, the House and Senate Education Committees held a joint hearing to receive an update on UA’s work in the area of teacher training. The annual hearing is required by state law, as part of the goal to bolster the number of teachers trained in Alaska. Steve Atwater, Executive Dean of the Alaska College of Education, briefed legislators on the successes, challenges and trends in teacher recruitment. The presentation was well received and can be viewed here.

Rep. Ledoux Exits House Majority Caucus

Anchorage Representative Gabrielle LeDoux was expelled from the House Majority Caucus this week. The Representative voted against retaining the House’s version of the Operating Budget, in violation of caucus rules. LeDoux argued that the Senate’s version of the budget preserved a full PFD and made her vote in protest. As expected, the Majority ejected LeDoux from the caucus and reassigned her committee chairmanships and assignments to other majority members.

Legislature Honors University Employee’s Legacy

This week the legislature passed a memorial citation honoring former UAF employee Merritt Helfferich upon his passing. Merritt's long service to the Geophysical Institute included helping establish Poker Flat Research Range and negotiating with NASA to create the International Arctic Research Center. The signposts Merritt helped created, indicating directions and distances, are a campus landmark and still stand in front of the Geophysical Institute today. Thank you to Representative Grier Hopkins for sponsoring this tribute to a distinguished university researcher.

The Capitol Report: May 3, 2019

Senate Passes FY20 Operating Budget

Greetings from Juneau! Today is the 109th day of the Legislative Session. Lawmakers have twelve days to conclude their business without calling a special session, and the pace is busy around the Capitol.

Senate Passes Operating Budget

The Senate passed the FY20 Operating Budget Wednesday by a vote of 19-1.

Senators set state funding for the University of Alaska at $322 million unrestricted general funds (UGF), $5 million below this year’s level. The Senate budget also splits UA’s budget in two appropriations – one for statewide, UAA and UAF, and a separate appropriation for UAS and all the community campuses. Their proposal also includes language to provide additional focus on the Educators Rising program, which encourages and recruits Alaska high school students to consider careers in education.

The House proposal sets UA’s budget at $317 million UGF, a $10 million cut from current levels. House members also added intent language directing the Board of Regents to study transitioning the University of Alaska from three separately accredited universities into a single institution with multiple community campuses. That language was not included in the version passed by the Senate this week.

Both budgets are a substantial change from the Governor's $134 million cut, and a strong indication of legislative support for UA in a difficult budget environment. The Operating Budget will now be considered in a conference committee made of up of leaders from the House and Senate Finance Committees to resolve differences between the two versions.

Overall, the House’s spending plan appropriates $4.3 billion in unrestricted general funds (UGF), a $200 million decrease from FY19, and contains enough funding for a $1,200 Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD). The Senate also made reductions to state services totaling $259 million. Their plan appropriates $6.3 billion and funds a $3,000 PFD. However, the Senate’s approach leaves a deficit of over $1.2 billion. Not surprisingly, final budget negotiations for this year boil down to the size of the dividend, and the source of funding needed to pay for it while ensuring a balanced budget.

We expect the Operating Budget Conference Committee to be appointed next week. UA’s budget will be a part of these larger budget negotiations. The Government Relations team will work with legislators as a final spending plan comes together.

Capital Budget Increases Funding for UA Deferred Maintenance

Today, the Senate Finance Committee released its FY20 Capital Budget. The bill includes $10 million in deferred maintenance funding for the university, $5 million more than the Governor’s proposal. The university is the largest landlord in state government, owning and maintaining more than 420 buildings, totaling 8.2 million gross square feet, and an adjusted value of nearly $4 billion. We also have some of the oldest buildings in the state with an average age of 33 years and a facilities maintenance backlog exceeding $1.2 billion.

UA has historically relied on annual capital appropriations to address our facilities maintenance backlog. Between FY06 and FY15, the legislature appropriated an average of $28 million a year. The Board of Regents has requested a minimum state appropriation of $50 million each of the last five years. Thank you to Finance Co-Chair Natasha von Imhof, and the Senate for including this critical funding in this year’s budget. You can see a breakdown of the projects included in the Capital Budget here.

Tribute to Mary Pete

Representative Tiffany Zulkosky gave a moving tribute to the late Mary Ciuniq Pete on the House Floor this week. Mary was the dean for the UAF College of Rural and Community Development and Kuskokwim Campus Director. She leaves a legacy of commitment and energy to create a university environment that championed culturally-appropriate Indigenous education. You can view the Representative’s floor speech here.

The Capitol Report: April 26, 2019

Senate Advances FY20 Operating Budget

Greetings from Juneau! Today is the 102nd day of session.

Budget Update

The Senate Finance Committee concluded its work on the FY20 Operating Budget this morning. Senators considered 26 amendments in finalizing a new committee substitute of the budget. An amendment by Senator Lyman Hoffman provided some additional focus on the Educators Rising program, which encourages and recruits Alaska high school students to consider careers in education. Senator Peter Micciche offered, but later withdrew, an amendment to reduce UA’s budget by an additional $5 million unrestricted general funds (UGF). If adopted, the amendment would have brought the Senate number to $317 million UGF, matching the House. The final committee proposal stays at $322 million, $5 million below this year’s level. The operating budget is expected to be considered on the Senate Floor next week. You can view this morning’s hearing here.
 

UAF Energy Research in the Capitol

On Thursday, the Senate Community & Regional Affairs Committee held a hearing on the topic of Nuclear Microreactors. Gwen Holdmann and George Roe from UAF’s Alaska Center for Energy & Power joined colleagues from the Idaho National Laboratory and Nuclear Energy Institute to discuss possible applications for microreactor technology in Alaska. Nuclear energy is a new topic for most legislators and the presentation was well received by the committee. U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski’s office also participated in the conversation, providing context related to the Senator’s ongoing work and vision for re-establishing U.S. leadership in the field. You can view UAF’s presentation to the committee here.

UAA Justice Center Briefs Finance Committee  

This afternoon the UAA Justice Center briefed members of the House Finance Committee on issues relating to reoffending by arrestees. Dr. Troy Payne’s presentation examined the likelihood of arrestees reoffending since the passage of the criminal justice reform commonly referred to as “Senate Bill 91” several years ago. Crime has been a hot topic in the Capitol this session. The Justice Center’s work compliments lawmakers’ discussion about crime policy, criminal justice reform, and legislation currently being considered in the legislature. You can view the hearing here.

Land Grant Resolution Heard in House

On Monday, the House Education Committee held a hearing on a resolution urging completion of the university’s land grant. House Joint Resolution 13 sponsored by Representative Lance Pruitt urges creation of an endowment for the university and calls for a state and federal strategy to resolve this longstanding issue. The hearing provided an opportunity to educate legislators about the university's land grand deficit and the benefits to Alaska of resolving it.

The Capitol Report: April 19, 2019

Legislature Goes into Overtime

Greetings from Juneau! Today is the 95th day of session. Sunday marked the statutory deadline for the Legislature to conclude its business. However, it has been clear for several months that more time is needed and that session would not be done in 90 days. The Constitution of the State of Alaska limits legislative sessions to 121 days. Legislators now have until May 15th to pass a budget and finish their work without calling a special session. 

Senate Subcommittee Increases UA Funding above the House

UA’s Senate Finance Subcommittee concluded its work this week and delivered encouraging news for our university. The subcommittee recommended a total unrestricted general fund budget of $322 million in two separate appropriations. The proposal is $5 million higher than the budget passed by the House. This is a strong statement of support for the university. During a year of substantial budget reductions, the fact that the Senate’s recommendation is only a 1.5 percent decrease over the current fiscal year is significant. Thank you to subcommittee chair Senator Lyman Hoffman and the members of the subcommittee for their work and support of UA.
 
The full Senate Finance Committee will take up the Operating Budget next week, and is expected to work into next weekend. President Johnsen attended the close out meeting this week while in Juneau to meet with legislators and the OMB Director. The Government Relations team will be working closely with senators as they finalize their spending plan.

Regent Confirmations

This week the Legislature convened a joint session to consider the Governor’s appointments to his cabinet and numerous state boards and commissions. The annual occurrence is called for in Article 3, Section 26 of the Constitution of the State of Alaska, which requires confirmation for the heads of state departments and most state boards.

The lengthy session confirmed the 13 new members of the Governor’s cabinet, as well as 88 individuals serving on state boards. UA Regents Darroll Hargraves and John Bania were both approved unanimously. Lawmakers did reject seven of the Governor’s nominations, including notable appointments to the Board of Fisheries and the Marijuana Control Board. The joint session also ratified the Governor’s selection of Michael Johnson, Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Education & Early Development, to serve as third in line of succession behind the Lieutenant Governor. 

Fulfilling UA’s Land Grant

On Monday, the House Education Committee will hold a hearing on a resolution urging completion of the university’s land grant. House Joint Resolution 13 sponsored by Representative Lance Pruitt urges creation of a full land endowment for the university, and calls for a state and federal strategy to resolve this longstanding issue. The measure accompanies Senate Joint Resolution 10 sponsored by Senator Gary Stevens, which was heard in the Senate Resources Committee last week. We look forward to the opportunity to inform legislators on how a complete land endowment would benefit the university and higher education in Alaska.

The Capitol Report: April 12, 2019

Greetings from Juneau!

Today is the 88th day of the legislative session. Work on the budget consumed legislators’ attention in the Capitol this week. The House passed the Operating Budget and the Senate held public testimony in preparation for its decisions on the budget.

House Passes Operating Budget

On Thursday, the House passed its version of the FY20 Operating Budget. The spending plan appropriates $4.3 billion in unrestricted general funds (UGF), a $200 million decrease from FY19. The House's action is a substantial change from the governor's proposed budget. Under the House's plan, the university receives a $317 million UGF budget. This is a $10 million cut over FY19, as opposed to the $134 million reduction introduced by the governor.

Dozens of amendments were offered during floor debate on the budget, including two directed at the University. An amendment by Rep. Sarah Rasmussen directs the Board of Regents to study transitioning the University of Alaska from three separately accredited universities into a single accredited institution with multiple community campuses. That amendment was adopted by a vote of 25-13. Rep. David Eastman also proposed an amendment, calling for UA to adopt a goal for a 32.5 percent graduation rate for full-time students. The amendment was rejected by a vote of 7-31. You can watch the House’s floor debate on these two amendments here.

The Operating Budget will next go to the Senate for its consideration, before being taken up by a conference committee later in the session to bridge the differences between the two spending plans.

Budget Public Testimony in Senate Finance

The Senate Finance Committee held two days of public testimony on the budget this week. The University of Alaska was well represented by students, faculty, alumni and stakeholders advocating in support of UA. The committee also heard from supporters of the WWAMI program, which provides medical school training in Alaska through a partnership between UAA and the University of Washington.

Next week Senate Finance Subcommittees will conclude their review of individual departments’ budgets and prepare recommendations for the Senate’s FY20 spending plan. UA’s Subcommittee will close out our budget next Tuesday at 2 p.m.

University Innovation for Legislators

Several of UA’s research and business leaders were in Juneau yesterday, to present to legislators on the university’s work in the area of innovation. The Legislature’s Alaska Innovation Caucus is a bicameral group of lawmakers who work to foster a culture of entrepreneurship, support small business development, and solve public policy challenges through innovation. The caucus was impressed with the breadth and benefits of UA’s initiatives. Thank you to John Wanamaker, UA Chief Innovation Officer, Christi Bell, Director of UAA’s Business Enterprise Institute, and Mark Billingsley from UAF’s Office of Intellectual Property & Commercialization for coming to Juneau. These briefings help familiarize the Legislature with the university’s value in addressing issues facing Alaska.

Land Grant Resolution Hearing

Friday afternoon the Senate Resources Committee held a hearing on a resolution regarding the university’s land grant. Senate Joint Resolution 10 by Senator Gary Stevens urges the creation of a permanent land endowment for the university. UA staff briefed the committee on this long-standing issue and discussed how a full land endowment would benefit higher education in Alaska. You can watch the hearing here.

The Capitol Report: April 5, 2019

House Finance Completes Budget Work

After a long, two-day session that began Wednesday morning and ended around 11 p.m. last night, the House Finance Committee concluded its work on the state operating budget. This moves the legislature one step closer to finalizing a spending plan for next year. This was the first serious test of the bi-partisan coalition which governs the House. The philosophical differences that stalemated the organization for the first 30-days of the session were on full-display. While the majority coalition holds both co-chair seats and a theoretical three vote margin, Republicans occupy eight of eleven seats on the Finance Committee. As a consequence, the committee is ideologically more conservative than the House as a whole. This imbalance potentially positions next week’s floor debate to be more contentious than normal.

Over 130 individual amendments were proposed and no agency was spared scrutiny. Discussions were often heated, with the underlying question almost always being – is this an appropriate role of state government? Some of the more contentious votes were rescinded and recast. The decisions were often framed as binary choices between budget items and their potential impact on the Permanent Fund Dividend. In the end, the committee approved a $10.2 billion budget, which includes $4.3 billion Unrestricted General Funds (UGF). That’s $114 million below this year’s UGF spending level. The amount of the dividend and its funding will be taken up at a later date.

University Budget Action

Representative Andy Josephson, the UA subcommittee chair, did an exceptional job advocating for us and opposing additional budget reductions. In the end, the committee approved a $10 million cut from current year spending levels, $20 million below the subcommittee recommendation. The subcommittee had concluded its work last Thursday, with a recommendation to increase UA’s budget by $10 million - from $327 to $337 million. The $337 million level was the starting point for the eleven member committee’s discussion last night. 

Six amendments were drafted for submission to the committee. Representative Bart LeBon’s amendments contemplated transferring the agricultural development functions of the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) Division of Agriculture to the Cooperative Extension Service at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Based on preliminary feedback from both DNR and UAF, he decided to withdraw the amendments in favor of doing an in-depth analysis of the programs this summer. Representative Gary Knopp offered an amendment to cut the subcommittee’s recommendation by $20 million, bringing UA’s funding to $317 million – FY18 funding levels. Recognizing that Knopp’s amendment had enough support to pass, Rep. Josephson proposed reducing it by $10 million, which would simply remove the subcommittee’s increase and keep our funding at this year’s $327 million level. Josephson’s proposal failed 3-8 with Josephson, LeBon and Dan Ortiz voting yes. Knopp’s amendment then passed on a 9-2 vote with Josephson and Ortiz voting against. Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard then offered an amendment on behalf of Rep. Sarah Vance to cut an additional $36 million. That failed on a 3-8 vote with Sullivan-Leonard, Ben Carpenter and Cathy Tilton voting yes. Rep. Sullivan-Leonard withdraw an amendment that contemplated an additional $67 million reduction. You can watch the full committee debate here.

What’s Next?

The budget moves to the House floor next week where members will have another opportunity to propose amendments. Floor debate is expected to extend until mid-to-late week before the bill passes to the Senate. UA’s Senate Subcommittee has met several times, but is holding off on final recommendations until they receive the House bill. Subcommittee closeout in the Senate is expected the week of 15th but they have scheduled public testimony for the end of next week. 

Budget Public Testimony in the Senate Next Week

Next week, the Senate Finance Committee will hold public testimony on the Operating Budget. This will be the last opportunity to testify before the committee concludes its work on the budget. We encourage you to visit your local Legislative Information Office and show your support for UA.

Thursday April 11th                 

  • 9:00 am - Mat-Su and Fairbanks                           
  • 1:00-2:15 pm - Juneau
  • 2:15-2:45 pm - Nome, Bethel, Kotzebue and Unalaska
  • 2:45-4:45 pm - Anchorage                

Friday April 12th

  • 9:00-9:45 am - Kenai, Kodiak and Dillingham
  • 9:45-10:30 am – Glennallen, Seward and Homer                                     
  • 1:00-2:00 pm - Ketchikan, Wrangell and Petersburg
  • 2:00-2:30 pm - Utqiagvik, Tok and Delta Junction
  • 2:30-3:30 pm - Sitka, Cordova and Valdez
  • 3:30-5:00 pm - Off-Net Call-In

Remember to arrive 15 minutes early to sign-up to testify. Share your story and tell legislators about the importance UA has for the Alaska’s future. 

Bills on the Move

Senate Bill 65 / House Bill 67 – Expands the authority of the Alaska Department of Labor & Workforce Development for monitoring and coordination of Career & Technical Education (CTE) programs in Alaska. The legislation is sponsored by the Governor and is currently being considered in the Senate Finance Committee and House Education Committee. As our state’s largest provider of workforce training, UA has a vital role in how CTE programs are authorized and funded. Paul Layer, VP of Academics, Students & Research, provided testimony to the House Education Committee this morning on the bill. You can view the hearing here.

Senate Joint Resolution 10 – Urges creation of a permanent land endowment for our university. The resolution is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Resources Committee next Friday at 3 p.m. We look forward to bringing awareness to this 100-year old issue, and talking with legislators about how a full land endowment will benefit higher education in Alaska. 

President Johnsen Addresses Sexual Assault with National Leaders

UA President Jim Johnsen joined top military leaders at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis this week for a discussion on sexual assault at institutions of higher education. Johnsen lead a panel on examining how campus leaders should establish appropriate standards, transparency and set the tone for dealing with these important issues. The event is a collaborative forum for developing best practices to create safe and healthy learning environments.

The Capitol Report: April 4, 2019

House Finance Releases Budget Amendments

As we speak, the House Finance Committee is debating operating budget amendments that could cut the university’s funding by as much as $87 million.

Amendment by Rep. Gary Knopp - Cuts $20 million from the UA Subcommittee’s recommendation, reducing state support to $317 million.  

Amendment by Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard – Cuts $56 million from UA’s budget, reducing state support to $281 million.

Amendment by Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard – Cuts $87 million from UA’s budget, reducing state support to $250 million.   

Amendment by Rep. Andy Josephson - Adds $10 million, raising state support to $347 million.

Amendments by Rep. Bart LeBon – Transfers several duties and employees from the Alaska Division of Agriculture to UAF’s Cooperative Extension Service.

You can view the amendment details here. The committee will be meeting throughout the week to conclude their deliberations. You can tune in and watch the committee’s work online or through Gavel to Gavel.

  • Thursday, April 4th - 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.

  • Friday, April 5th - 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.

  • Saturday, April 6th - 10:00 a.m.

We will continue to monitor the committee’s work on the budget, and encourage you to engage in the process to support the University of Alaska.

 

The Capitol Report: March 29, 2019

Greetings from Juneau. Today is the 74th day of the legislative session.

House Finance Releases Operating Budget Draft

Yesterday the House Finance Committee released a new version of the FY20 Operating Budget. Their working draft largely sets aside the Governor’s proposed budget cuts, incorporating recommendations of the 18 finance subcommittees that reviewed the budgets of individual state agencies. This gives the committee a new template to work from as they consider amendments and adjustments scheduled for next week.

UA Advocacy in Full Effect

Thank you to everyone who has been advocating on our behalf. This past week hundreds of Alaskans showed support for UA at community meetings by the legislature and the Governor, as well during public testimony before the House Finance Committee. You are demonstrating to our lawmakers how important UA is to Alaska's future.

State of the University

On Tuesday, UA President Jim Johnsen gave his State of the University address in Fairbanks. His message was clear: you cannot have a great state without a great university. The president took that same message to Juneau again this week, meeting with legislators to discuss the university's budget. While in the Capitol, he also presented to a meeting of the university's Senate Finance Operating Budget Subcommittee. You can view the President’s State of the University address here, and his presentation before our subcommittee here.

Land Grant Resolutions Introduced

Legislative resolutions were introduced in the House and Senate this week calling for a solution to UA's Land Grant Deficit. House Joint Resolution 13 by Rep. Lance Pruitt and Senate Joint Resolution 10 by Sen. Gary Stevens, seek a joint federal and state solution to create a permanent land endowment for our university. Although UA is a land grant institution, it has not received its full land entitlement and is due approximately 360,000 acres. Resolving this issue is vital to sustaining the university for years into the future. We appreciate these lawmakers’ willingness to bring awareness to this 100-year old problem, and look forward to working with them to move these measures through the legislature. 

Board of Regents Confirmation Hearings

The Governor has appointed Darroll Hargraves and John Bania to fill the two open seats on the UA Board of Regents. Next week, in Juneau, the Senate and House Education Committees will be holding confirmation hearings for these two individuals. The Senate hearing begins Tuesday morning at 9:00 a.m. The House hearing begins Wednesday morning at 8:00 a.m.

Did You Know?

UA alums feature prominently in the leadership of state government. Governor Michael Dunleavy (UAF ‘90), Senate President Cathy Giessel (UAA ’00), and Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon (UAA ‘89) are all alumni of the University of Alaska! This is only the second time in state history that the leaders of the legislative and executive branches of state government have all been UA alums!

 The Capitol Report: March 22, 2019

Greetings from Juneau! Today is the 67th day of the legislative session.

House Subcommittee Closeout

This afternoon, members of the House UA Finance Subcommittee concluded work on the university’s FY20 Operating Budget. During their deliberations this week, House lawmakers rejected the Governor’s proposed budget cuts on a bipartisan basis and approved an amendment by Rep. Adam Wool that would add $10 million in funding to the university’s budget. Thank you to subcommittee Chair Rep. Andy Josephson and all the members for their work. This is strong statement of support for UA, but is a very preliminary step in the process. Our budget will now go before the full House Finance Committee. We are expecting a very thorough review and likely changes to the subcommittees’ funding level recommendation.

Public Testimony on the Budget

This weekend, the House Finance Committee will hold community hearings around the state. If you miss that opportunity to testify, the House Finance Committee has also scheduled public testimony on the Operating Budget next week. Visit your local Legislative Information Office to testify, and share with legislators why UA is important.
 
Monday March 25th

  • 5:30-7:30 p.m. – Kodiak, Seward, Utqiagvik, Dillingham, Petersburg, Unalaska, Cordova, Kotzebue, Nome, Wrangell
  • 7:30-8:30 p.m. – Mat-Su, Kenai, Juneau 

Tuesday March 26th

  • 5:30-7:30 p.m. – Homer, Delta Junction, Glenallen, Tok, Valdez, Whittier, Healy
  • 7:30-8:30 p.m. – Fairbanks, Anchorage, Ketchikan, Sitka

Coalition of Student Leaders

Earlier this week the Coalition of Student Leaders visited Juneau to advocate on behalf of our university. The energy and personal stories these students brought to the Capitol was inspiring. The students met with every legislative office including Governor Dunleavy’s staff. They also held a Pizza & Politics mixer with legislators and a rally in support of UA on the Capitol steps. The Coalition is a big help in promoting UA and helping to advocate for our legislative agenda, and it was great to have them in Juneau.

Internship Event

Earlier today, the University of Alaska Southeast hosted a meet and greet for legislators and students participating in the Senator Ted Stevens Legislative Internship Program. The event highlighted the important role that interns have in the Capitol, and the important service they provide legislators and their staffs. For more than 30 years, University of Alaska students have worked as interns during the legislative session. It is a great opportunity for students in any academic program, and the students gain valuable experience while earning college credit.

Federal Update

This week, President Trump issued an Executive Order related to several issues related to higher education. The order calls for colleges and universities to ensure “free and open debate” on their campuses or risk losing federal funding. Specifically, federal agencies are directed to add language to existing grant agreements that requires such actions necessary to “…promote free and open debate on college and university campuses.”
 
The Executive Order also orders the Department of Education to create greater access to postsecondary education outcomes in order to assist students in making educational choices. This would be achieved through greater reportingto the College Scorecard. A secondary goal of this directive would increase accountability of institutions by making them consider likely future earnings as a benchmark of program costs.

 

The Capitol Report: March 18, 2019

President Johnsen Visits Washington

Recently UA President Jim Johnsen traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with senior congressional and federal officials to advocate on behalf of the university. Over several busy days, he met with Alaska’s Congressional Delegation, the Department of Interior, the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, and the International Arctic Research Planning Committee.

UA’s Federal Priorities

President Johnsen met individually with Senator Murkowski, Senator Sullivan, and Congressman Young to present the University of Alaska’s FY20 federal priorities. In addition to re-establishing a full-time presence in Washington D.C., UA worked with campus leaders across the state to identify a single set of system-wide priorities for the FY20 appropriation cycle. The programs presented to the delegation were assessed on the principles of: mission alignment, demonstrated expertise, competitive advantage, growth potential, academic linkage, and likelihood of success. Research activities provide tremendous economic value to Alaska and we hope to aggressively expand our federal research partnerships. The university will also be working with the Alaska Delegation on reauthorization of the federal Higher Education Act, which governs a huge part of our mission.

On the day he visited with Congressman Don Young, Mr. Young, the Dean of the House, became the longest serving Republican member of Congress in history. Young has represented Alaska in Congress for over 46 years.

UA Land Grant Update

UA’s Land Grant Deficit was a central point of discussion during President Johnsen’s visit. Although a land grant institution, the University of Alaska has not received its full land entitlement, and is still due approximately 360,000 acres. Even Rhode Island received a bigger land grant than Alaska, the country’s largest state. Resolving this issue is vital to sustaining the university for years into the future. President Johnsen discussed this issue thoroughly with our congressional delegation, as well as Assistant Secretary of Interior, and Alaskan, Joe Balash who directs land and minerals management for that agency. President Johnsen also met with Kip Knudson, Governor Dunleavy’s Director of State & Federal Relations, about partnering to advance this issue at both the state and federal level.

Increasing Federal Research Partnerships

Growing federal research partnerships is a top UA priority, and the President’s trip helped advance this goal. Meeting with the director of the new White House Office of Science & Technology Policy, President Johnsen discussed UA’s position as the world’s leading Arctic research university. The meeting also provided a wide-ranging discussion on energy and unmanned aviation to defense and national security research. President Johnsen also invited the director, Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier, to visit Alaska and see our state and university first hand.

President Johnsen also met with the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee (IARPC). The organization consists of principals from 16 agencies, departments, and offices across the Federal Government to monitor, enhance and coordinate scientific and research related to the Arctic. They are also working to progress the goals of the International Arctic Research Commission. UA has extensive international collaborations which could create economic and scientific opportunities arising from an opening Arctic. President Johnsen discussed existing UA assets and capabilities like the USArray sensing network at the UAF Earthquake Center. The federal government spends approximately $400 million annually on non-defense Arctic research, and these meetings help position UA to expand our federal opportunities.

Federal Budget Update

President Trump released his annual President’s Budget Request to Congress on March 11th. Overall, the request proposes $2.7 trillion in spending reductions over the next 10 years. Similar to last year, it calls for budget cuts and elimination of several programs important to higher education and UA’s research programs. The package also has several controversial measures, including $8.6 billion in funding for a southern U.S. border wall.

Last week the Democrat-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate approved a resolution seeking to block the President from funding a border wall without congressional approval. President Trump vetoed the measure last Friday. This marks the President’s first veto during his time in office. It is unlikely that Congress will muster the required two-thirds majority vote of each chamber needed to override a presidential veto. Advocacy groups have already filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the President’s emergency declaration, which in this instance provides funding for the border wall under the auspices of exigent circumstances.

Further complicating the fiscal year 2020 appropriations process is the lack of a “bipartisan budget agreement.” In 2011, Congress passed the Budget Control Act, which annually imposes discretionary limits for defense and non-defense spending. If Congress is unable to pass a budget agreement, then all discretionary programs are subject to a significantly lower level of funding. In early 2018, House and Senate leaders passed the Bipartiasan Budget Act of 2018, which raised budgetary caps set and increased spending over fiscal year 2017 levels.
 
Since the President’s budget was several weeks late due to the government shutdown, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees have signaled an expedited committee process. The proceedings are expected to begin as early as next month, with a goal of being completed before the August recess. The current funding agreement for the federal government will expire at the end of the fiscal year on September 30th.

Did You Know?

There is a group that promotes our state and all things Alaska in the Beltway! The Alaska State Society fosters educational, cultural, and civic activities in D.C. to recognize the Great State of Alaska. The non-profit has over 300 members consisting of Alaskans and friends of our state living within the Washington area.
 
Next month, the Alaska State Society will hold a reception in honor of the 60thanniversary of Alaska Statehood. The event will take part alongside the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, and be held in the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee Hearing Room (rm. 366) in the Dirksen Senate Office Building from 5-7 p.m. on Monday April 8th.

The Capitol Report: March 8, 2019

Greetings from Juneau, today is the 52nd day of session. The pace of work continues to ramp up around the Capitol. Committees and subcommittees are meeting from early morning into the evening as legislators delve into the budget and other policy issues facing the state.

Hearings this Week

This week Legislators received a great showcase of the benefits of our university’s research and education mission.
 
Early in the week, Dean Bradley Moran of the UAF College of Fisheries & Ocean Sciences appeared before three legislative committees. His presentations highlighted the value of UA’s world-class research and discussed how our university helps foster a “Blue Economy” through industries such as mariculture. Legislators were especially impressed hearing about the R/V Sikuliaq and the return on investment it provides for Alaska. Click these links to view Dean Moran’s presentations to the Senate Resources Committee, as well as the House Resources and Fisheries Committees.
 
On Wednesday, staff from UAA’s Business Enterprise Institute participated in presentations on the outdoor recreation industry in Alaska. Nolan Klouda and Richelle Johnson from the UAA Center for Economic Development discussed university research on this emerging market and small business start-ups. Click these links for their committee presentation and lunchtime briefing.  
 
This afternoon Director Brad Myrstol and Troy Payne from the UAA Justice Center appeared before the House Judiciary Committee. The Justice Center was invited to brief the legislators on recent data on crime and rearrest patterns in Alaska. The legislature is considering several changes to Alaska’s crime statutes, and this presentation showcased how the university is a resource for policymakers. You can view their hearing here.

Pharmacy Students Visit the Capitol

Students from UAA’s Doctor of Pharmacy program visited Juneau this week as part of their annual fly-in. The group met with more than a dozen legislators to inform state leaders about their program. The students also took time out of their day to set up a table in the Capitol’s public lounge to provide flu shots for legislators and staff. Thank you to program Director Tom Wadsworth and all of the pharmacy students for taking the time to come to Juneau.

House Finance University Subcommittee

The university’s House Finance Subcommittee held its first meeting yesterday evening. The hearing was a vigorous review of the governor’s UA budget proposal and included presentations by both President Jim Johnsen and the Legislative Finance Division. President Johnsen walked legislators through the consequences that severe budget cuts would have for our university, and detailed the reductions and reforms UA has already made in recent years. He also made a point of ensuring committee members understood the true magnitude of the proposed cuts. You can view the subcommittee meeting here.
 
Subcommittee chair Rep. Andy Josephson (D-Anchorage) began the hearing with an eloquent quote about the importance of the University of Alaska. A lawyer by training, Josephson read an excerpt from a 1975 Alaska Supreme Court case (Univ. Alaska v. National Aircraft Lease). While the case itself did not necessarily relate to UA’s budget, the language composed by Justice Dimond is worth sharing:   
 
“…we are of the opinion that (the university) must be considered to be an integral part of the state educational system mandated by the constitution. In its constitutional status it stands as the single governmental entity which was specifically created by the people to meet the statewide need for a public institution of higher education. In this light, the University must be regarded as uniquely an instrumentality of the state itself. Unlike other public educational institutions created to meet the *125 needs of local areas, it exists constitutionally to act for the benefit of the state and the public generally.
 
…a status which is co-equal rather than subordinate to that of the executive or the legislative arms of government.”
 
Thank you to UA Regent Dale Anderson, as well as UAS student and faculty for attending the hearing. The subcommittee will be meeting Tuesday and Thursday evenings at 5pm for the next two weeks, with the goal of concluding their work on March 21st. President Johnsen will also be presenting before the full House Finance Committee next Wednesday March 13th at 1:30 p.m.

Economics of the Governor’s Budget

Perhaps the most interesting set of hearings this week was the House and Senate Finance Committee’s review of the projected economic impacts of the Governor’s proposed FY20 budget. The committees separately engaged economists from state agencies, the Governor’s office, and UAA’s Institute of Social & Economic Research to assess the economic impact budget cuts will have.   
 
ISER professor Dr. Mouhcine Guettabi testified that the proposed $1.6 billion spending cuts would extend Alaska’s economic recession. This was in contrast to more indeterminate projections offered by the Alaska Department of Labor & Workforce Development, and the Governor’s Office of Management & Budget. ISER has been at the forefront of analyzing the economic impacts of the state’s fiscal policy options. ISER’s research in 2016 concluded that every $100 million taken out of Alaska’s economy results in an approximate job loss of 1,086. That report has been widely cited by legislators in recent years. Dr. Guettabi’s presentation forecasted that the Governor’s budget cuts could result in the loss of over 16,900 jobs. Click here to watch Dr. Guettabi’s presentation to the House and Senate Finance Committees.

Coming Attractions 

Next week will be another busy week in the Capitol for the university. President Johnsen will be in Juneau to meet with legislators and present in committee. We also will welcome Dean Bill Schnabel of the UAF College of Engineering & Mines to give a presentation to the House Resources Committee on Wednesday March 13th at 1:30 p.m. He will brief the committee on UA’s work in the areas of oil & gas and mining.
 
In addition, we also will be monitoring hearings on two pieces of university-related legislation:

  • Senate Bill 53 – Accreditation Reporting – Sen. Finance Comm., Wednesday March 13th @ 9 a.m.
     
  • Senate Bill 30 – Middle College Expansion – Sen. Education Comm., Thursday March 14th @ 9 a.m.

Johnsen in the Capitol 

President Johnsen is in Washington D.C. this week meeting with Federal Agencies and the Alaska Congressional Delegation to discuss UA’s FY20 federal priorities and research initiatives. Look for a recap of his trip early next week.

Governor's Cup Finale

Governor Michael Dunleavy and Lt. Governor Kevin Meyer were our guests last weekend to drop the puck at the final of the 26th annual Governor’s Cup Hockey Series in Anchorage. This event brings together the storied rivalry of the UAF Nanooks and UAA Seawolves for Alaska’s only intrastate collegiate hockey games. It was an honor to have both leaders join UA for the event, and thank you to Chancellor Cathy Sandeen and the UAA Athletics Department for hosting.

Advocacy & Townhall Meetings

Several legislators will be back in-district this weekend holding constituent meetings. This is a great opportunity to talk with your elected-representatives to share your UA story and why the University of Alaska is important to you.
 
Anchorage
Senator Mia Costello - Friday 3/8
6 p.m. at Turnagain Social Club, 3201 Turnagain St.
 
Mat-Su/Eagle River
Senator Shelley Hughes - Saturday 3/9
9 a.m. at Chugiak Cafe, 18575 Old Glenn Highway
11 a.m. at Mat-Su Senior Services, 1132 S. Chugach St.
 
Fairbanks/North Pole 
Senator John Coghill & Rep. Tammie Wilson – Saturday 3/9
11:15 a.m. at North Pole Library, 656 NPHS Boulevard

Juneau
Senator Jesse Kiehl, Reps. Andi Story and Sara Hannan
 – Tuesday 3/12
5 p.m. at Juneau-Douglas High School, 1639 Glacier Avenue

Did you know?

Student Art in the Capitol has been a highlight in the Capitol Building since 1988. The diverse display of quality artwork by Alaskan elementary, middle and high school students reflects the cultural and experiential differences of youth all across the state expressed through a variety of media. 

The Capitol Report: March 1, 2019

Yesterday was the 45th legislative day – technically the half-way point in a typical 90-day session. But following a month long delay in organizing the House and given the sweeping nature of the Governor’s budget proposal, in many ways the session has just begun.

Hearings this Week

The Senate Education Committee advanced legislation Tuesday adding to the existing list of subjects the Board of Regents must regularly report to the legislature.  Senate Bill 53 sponsored by committee chair Senator Gary Stevens, establishes a new semiannual (twice yearly) requirement for the Regents to report on the status of national, regional, and programmatic accreditations at the University of Alaska.  The bill was introduced in response to the recent loss of accreditation of initial licensure programs at UAA’s School of Education.

Existing Regent policy, P10.06.010, requires each university to regularly assess all instructional programs to evaluate their quality and effectiveness. These program reviews are designed to meet the standards of all applicable accrediting bodies. During this week’s hearing, UAS Provost Karen Carey answered assessed members with their questions on UA’s program review and accreditation process. The bill adopted by the committee also tightens the reporting requirements related to UA’s teacher preparation, retention and recruitment initiatives, known colloquially as the “SB 241 Report.” The bill passed out of committee and is now before the Senate Finance Committee. You can access committee materials and watch on Gavel Alaska here.

The Senate Finance Committee concluded its preliminary review of the Governor’s FY20 budget proposal on Tuesday with a presentation from David Teal, Director of the legislature’s non-partisan Finance Division. Down the hall, House Finance Committee members received a similar presentation from Mr. Teal as the committee kicked off their review of the Governor’s budget. The House will begin individual agency reviews next week.

Mr. Teal characterized the 41 percent ($134 million) cut to the University’s budget as “real money” and criticized the idea of replacing those state general funds with authority to collect more tuition and fees as "fantasy money". You can watch Gavel Alaska’s coverage of Mr. Teal’s presentation to the Senate and watch the House Finance Committee hearing here.

House Finance University Subcommittee

The House Finance Committee has begun the budget subcommittee process. This year the House is continuing last year’s practice of forming subcommittee around existing standing committees, to then be chaired by a member of the House Finance Committee. The University of Alaska’s budget subcommittee will consist of the members of the House State Affairs Committee with finance member Representative Andy Josephson chairing the group. The University’s budget subcommittee in the House is:

  • Representative Andy Josephson, Chair (D – Anchorage)
  • Representative Zack Fields (D – Anchorage)
  • Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (D – Sitka)
  • Representative Gabrielle LeDoux (R – Anchorage)
  • Representative Andi Story (D – Juneau)
  • Representative Adam Wool (D – Fairbanks)
  • Representative Sarah Vance (R – Homer)
  • Representative Laddie Shaw (R – Anchorage)

You’ll not that there are four freshman legislators on our committee this year. The subcommittee will convene its first meeting next Thursday March 7h at 5 p.m. for an initial overview of our FY20 budget.

Bills on the Move

Over 170 bills and resolutions have already been introduced this session. While the operating budget SB 20/HB 39 are the university’s top priority, we are also tracking othe legislation that relate to UA and our mission.

Senate Bill 30 by Sen. Gary Stevens – Expand Middle College

This legislation would expand existing middle college programs to every school district in Alaska. Middle colleges provide high school students the opportunity to take classes from the University of Alaska, earning both high school and college credit. UA currently operates voluntary middle college programs in partnership with the Anchorage School District (ASD) and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District (MSBSD). The bill has had two hearings and is currently before the Senate Education Committee. 
 
Senate Bill 31 by Sen. Gary Stevens – UA Credit Transferability

This bill seeks to streamline the transferability of general education credits between the university’s academic programs and campuses. The legislation puts new requirements in state law to establish a common general curriculum. SB 31 has had one hearing in the Senate Education Committee. Many of the requirements in the legislation are already required by current Board of Regents Policy. We look forward to working with Senator Stevens on this issue.

Senate Bill 53 by Sen. Gary Stevens – UA Program Accreditation Reporting

Legislation establishes a reporting requirement on the subject of UA system-wide accreditation in state law, and calls for the university to present this report to the legislature semiannually.

Senate Bill 59 / House Bill 61 by Governor – Repeal Debt Reimbursement

This legislation repeals $1.2 million in annual debt support the university receives for two specific projects approved by the legislature in 2002 - UAA’s Community & Technical College at University Center in Anchorage and the UAS Joint Use Student Recreation/National Guard Readiness Center in Juneau. The debt authorization contained in the original legislation and the annual state funding support implied therein, was a critical factor in the university’s decision to issue $19.47 million in debt to acquire and construct these two educational facilities. We made those commitments with the full expectation that the state, through annual legislative appropriations, would reimburse the university for its debt service costs, as the legislation intended. Beginning in FY04, and continuing for each of the 15 years since, the university has in fact received annual legislative appropriations to cover these payments. The outstanding balance on these debt obligations is $9.3 million, which will have to be repaid exclusively by the UA.  Annual debt service is a fixed cost that must be paid, so without continued state support, the university will have to cut somewhere else to make up that $1.2 million annual payment. The bill is currently before the Senate Finance Committee. 

Coming Attractions

Next week we look forward to welcoming UA leaders and students to the Capital City.

UAS will be hosting this year’s Educators Rising Conference. The annual event brings together over 100 high school students, teachers, administrators, legislators and community members from across Alaska to promote the education profession. The conference is organized by UAF’s K-12 Outreach Program and we look forward to seeing them in Juneau.

Students from UAA’s Doctor of Pharmacy program will be in the Capitol. Their annual visit is always well received, and showcases how the university is addressing important needs in health care for Alaska.

We will also have several UA research leaders presenting before legislative committees. These hearings showcase our university’s expertise and UA’s role in solving issues facing our state.

Dr. Bradley Moran – Dean, UAF College of Fisheries & Ocean Sciences
"Building Alaska’s Blue Economy"
March 4th @ 1:00 p.m. – Senate Resources Committee
March 4th @ 3:30 p.m. – Senate Resources Committee
March 5th @ 11:00 a.m. – House Fisheries Committee 

Nolan Klouda – Director, UAA Center for Economic Development
"Outdoor Recreation Industry: Open for More Business"
March 6th @ 3:30 p.m. – Senate Resources Committee 

Dr. Mouhcine Guettabi – Professor, UAA Institute of Social & Economic Research
"Economic Overview of Governor’s Proposed Operating Budget"
March 7th @ 9:00 a.m. – Senate Finance Committee
March 7th @ 1:30 p.m. – House Finance Committee

Dr. Bradley Myrstol – Director, UAA Justice Center
"Justice Research for Alaska"
March 8th @ 1:30 p.m. – House Judiciary Committee

Follow us on Twitter

Things move fast in the Legislature. To keep you informed we have established a twitter feed @UA_GovRelations. Follow us and check out our website for frequent updates.

 

Latest News from Juneau!

February 22, 2019

Today is the 39th day of session and the end of an incredibly busy week in the Capitol. UA was well represented - engaging legislators on the budget, presenting at the annual Innovation Summit, and briefing policymakers on UA research. This week also featured fly-ins by our 4-H program, local Chambers of Commerce and the Alaska Municipal League. Additionally, the Legislature received addresses from Senator Murkowski, Senator Sullivan, and the Chief Justice of the Alaska Supreme Court.
 
Next week the House of Representatives will ramp-up its work. With organization finalized, the House returns to regular order and has a full slate of committee meetings scheduled.

UA Responds to Governor’s Budget
On Tuesday, UA President Jim Johnsen addressed the Senate Finance Committee in response to the Governor’s proposed budget. His remarks conveyed the consequences that severe budget cuts would have for our university. The hearing discussed the vital role higher education has in addressing issues in Alaska. The president corrected several misconceptions about the UA budget, and detailed the sacrifices and reforms UA has already had to make in recent years. You can watch President Johnsen’s presentation here. The president also has sent a budget message to the UA community, which you can view here.
 
In next week’s Capitol Report, we will take a deeper look at the Governor’s FY20 budget and the upcoming subcommittee process. With the House finalizing its organization, the membership of the House Finance Committee has been set as follows:
 
Rep. Neal Foster (D-Nome), Co-Chair – Operating Budget
Rep. Tammie Wilson (R-North Pole), Co-Chair – Capital Budget & Bills
Rep. Jennifer Johnston (R-Anchorage), Vice-Chair
Rep. Andy Josephson (D-Achorage)
Rep. Gary Knopp (R-Kenai)
Rep. Bart LeBon (R-Fairbanks)
Rep. Dan Ortiz (I-Ketchikan)
Rep. Cathy Tilton (R-Wasilla)
Rep. Kelly Merrick (R-Eagle River)
Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard (R-Wasilla)
Rep. Ben Carpenter (R-Kenai)

You can see the full House Committee assignment list here

UA Research Showcased for Legislators
Senators received a great showcase of the breadth and benefits of university research this week.
 
On Monday, Dean Bill Schnabel of the UAF College of Engineering & Mines gave the Senate Resources Committee an overview of UA’s work in the areas of oil and gas and mining. These are two popular topics with legislators, as resource development fuels revenue for state government. The hearing was a great first step for increasing the university’s visibility on these important issues. His presentation detailed unique projects UA is doing with industry, such as collaborating with Hilcorp and the Department of Energy on Heavy Oil development or creating mining mill simulators used internationally. You can watch Dean Schnabel’s presentation here.
 
On Thursday, UAF Vice Chancellor for Research Larry Hinzman gave the Senate Education Committee a wide-ranging presentation on the different types of research conducted by UA and its benefit to the State of Alaska. VC Hinzman was also joined by Mark Billingsley from UAF Center ICE to discuss UA’s efforts commercialize research, turning ideas and intellectual property into start-up businesses. You can view their presentation here.

UA Innovators and 4-H Students in Juneau
This week several university staff visited the Capital City for the Juneau Economic Development Corporation’s Innovation Summit. It was great to have UA leaders in town, including UAF Chancellor Dan White and Vice President Paul Layer, to showcase work being done by the university to grow Alaska’s economy.
 
We were also pleased to welcome nine students from the UAF Cooperative Extension’s 4-H program for their annual Youth in Government Conference. The fly-in teaches young Alaskans about state government and civic engagement. The students kept very busy meeting legislators and serving as guests pages. They made a great impression on legislators, and even hosted a waffle breakfast for lawmakers along with Senator Shelley Hughes and Representative Tammie Wilson.

Advocacy & Townhall Meetings
Many legislators will be back in-district this weekend holding town hall meetings with their constituents. This is a great opportunity to talk with your elected-representatives to share your UA story and why the University of Alaska is important to you.
 
Anchorage
Saturday 2/23 – 10am at the Anchorage School District Education Center, 5530 E. Northern Lights Blvd.
 
Chugiak/Eagle River
Saturday 2/23 from 2-4 p.m. Saturday at the Chugiak Senior Center, 22424 Birchwood Loop Rd, in Chugiak. 
 
Mat-Su
Saturday 2/23 from 10-12 p.m. at Fronteras Spanish Immersion Charter School, 2315 North Seward Meridian Parkway, in Wasilla.
 
FairbanksRepresentatives Adam Wool and Grier Hopkins
Saturday 2/23 - 2:30-4:30pm at the Blue Loon, 2999 Parks Hwy

 

February 18, 2019

Greetings from Juneau

We’re wrapping up an eventful week in Juneau! The Governor’s budget was released, and compromises were reached to organize the state House. The pace around the Capitol will ramp up substantially as House members will have to move into permanent offices, and set-up committees in addition to managing their regular legislative business.
 
Budget Response and Hearings in the Capitol
The University of Alaska will be well represented in the Capitol next week by students, researchers, and UA leaders.
 
On Tuesday, February 19, President Jim Johnsen will testify before the Senate Finance Committee on the impacts of the unprecedented budget cuts proposed by the Governor. The revised budget submitted by the administration slashes state funding for UA by $134 million, by far the largest cut in the history of the university. The President will address the full finance committee at 9 a.m., and then present to UA’s budget subcommittee at 2 p.m. that afternoon. 
 
We are also pleased to welcome several of our university’s research leaders to Juneau for events both inside and outside the Capitol.

  • Monday Feb.18th 3:30 p.m. - Bill Schnabel, Dean of the UAF College of Engineering & Mines will brief the Senate Resources Committee  on UA’s work in the areas of oil, natural gas and mining. 
  • Tuesday Feb. 19th 9 a.m. - Larry Hinzman, UAF Vice Chancellor for Research, will present to the Senate Education Committee about the breadth and benefits of university research.

Throughout the week, we will also have staff from UAA’s Business Enterprise Institute engaging with state and business leaders as part of the Juneau Economic Development Corporation’s Innovation Summit. Nolan Klouda, Director of the Center of Economic Development, appeared before the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee this week to talk about emerging markets and women’s entrepreneurship. You can view his presentation here.
 
To top it off, students from the Cooperative Extension’s 4-H program will be in town all week as part of their fly-in. The annual event gives young Alaskans first-hand exposure to state leaders through individual meetings, mock committees, and serving as guest pages on the House and Senate floor.


Senator Click Bishop on Campus
Senator Click Bishop (R-Fairbanks) was UA's guest last weekend to drop the puck in celebration of the  26th annual Governor’s Cup Hockey Series. This event brings together the storied rivalry of the UAF Nanooks and UAA Seawolves for Alaska’s only intrastate collegiate hockey games. The Senator greatly enjoyed the event, and thank you to Chancellor Dan White and the UAF Athletics department for hosting.

February 15, 2019

Greetings from Juneau

It has been an eventful week in Juneau! The Governor’s budget was released, and compromises were reached to organize the state House. Many legislators will spend this next week moving into permanent offices, setting-up committees, and starting-in on the difficult issues facing lawmakers. The pace around the Capitol will ramp up substantially in the coming weeks. UA leaders will be actively engaged, and we will be working to provide frequent updates through the Capitol Report as events unfold during session. 

Budget Response and Hearings in the Capitol

The University of Alaska will be well represented in the Capitol next week by students, researchers, and UA leaders.

On Tuesday February 19, President Jim Johnsen will testify before the Senate Finance Committee on the impacts of the unprecedented budget cuts proposed by the Governor. The revised budget submitted by the administration slashes state funding for UA by $134 million, by far the largest cut in the history of the university. The President will address the full finance committee at 9am, and then present to UA’s budget subcommittee at 2pm that afternoon. 

We are also pleased to welcome several of our university’s research leaders to Juneau for events both inside and outside the Capitol.

  • Monday Feb.18th 3:30pm - Bill Schnabel, Dean of the UAF College of Engineering & Mines will brief the Senate Resources Committee on UA’s work in the areas of oil, natural gas and mining.
  • Tuesday Feb. 19th 9am - Larry Hinzman, UAF Vice Chancellor for Research, will present to the Senate Education Committee about the breadth and benefits of university research.

Throughout the week, we will also have staff from UAA’s Business Enterprise Institute engaging with state and business leaders as part of the Juneau Economic Development Corporation’s Innovation Summit. Nolan Klouda, Director of the Center for Economic Development, appeared before the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee this week to talk about emerging markets and women’s entrepreneurship. You can view his presentation here

To top it off, students from the Cooperative Extension’s 4-H program will be in town all week as part of their fly-in. The annual event gives young Alaskans first hand exposure to state leaders through individual meetings, mock committees, and serving as guest-pages on the House and Senate floor.

Senator Click Bishop on Campus

Senator Click Bishop (R-Fairbanks) was our guest last weekend to drop the puck in celebration of the  26th annual Governor’s Cup Hockey Series. This event brings together the storied rivalry of the UAF Nanooks and UAA Seawolves for Alaska’s only intrastate collegiate hockey games. The Senator greatly enjoyed the event, and thank you to Chancellor Dan White and the UAF Athletics department for hosting.

February 14, 2019

Five Times-a-Charm

Thirty-one days into the 90-day legislative session, and it looks like the organizational logjam in the Alaska House of Representatives has broken. At its 10 a.m. floor session this morning, the House selected Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham as Speaker on a vote of 21-18.
 
In an earlier procedural vote, the body excused Representative Gary Knopp (R-Kenai) from the day’s session. Knopp is traveling back to his district where he is scheduled to speak at a joint Kenai-Soldotna Chamber of Commerce breakfast tomorrow morning and town hall meeting. You’ll recall that Rep. Knopp is one of three Republican members of the House that have been unwilling to organize along purely partisan lines.

Today’s compromise gave Rep. Edgmon the 21 votes necessary to become Speaker of the 40-member body. Over the past four weeks, the House held five separate votes to elect a presiding officer, all of which failed 20-20. The agreement reached today means Speaker Edgmon will lead a coalition of mostly Democrats and some Republicans. For his part, Edgmon agreed to change his voter registration from Democrat to Undeclared earlier this week. The coalition was made possible by Republican legislators Jennifer Johnston, Chuck Kopp, Gabrielle LeDoux and Louise Stutes voting for Edgmon. The bipartisan compromise is expected to also place Republicans into several key leadership positions: 

  • Rep. Steve Thompson (R-Fairbanks) – Rules Chair
  • Rep. Chuck Kopp (R-Anchorage) – Majority Leader
  • Rep. Tammie Wilson (R – North Pole) – Finance Co-Chair, Operating Budget
  • Rep. Neal Foster (D-Nome) – Finance Co-Chair, Capital Budget & Bills 

As a result of Edgmon’s election, the 31st Alaska Legislature marks only the second time in state history in which the Governor (UAF ‘90), Senate President (UAA ’00), and Speaker of the House (UAA ‘89) are all University of Alaska alumni.

February 13, 2019

Governor’s Budget Devastating to the University of Alaska

This morning Governor Dunleavy unveiled his FY20 budget proposal including an unprecedented 41% reduction to the University of Alaska’s operating budget for next fiscal year. The Governor’s spending plan cuts $134 million from this year’s budget, reducing the university’s general fund support from $327 million to $193 million. If this cut is sustained by the legislature, it would be the largest year-over-year reduction in the university’s history and would take us back to 2002 funding levels.

We are still analyzing the details of the budget, but it’s already clear that every state agency and public service in Alaska will be impacted in some way. For Governor Dunleavy to deliver on his promise to pay a full dividend and bring spending down to match current revenue, we knew a $1.6 billion cut was coming. However, the magnitude and breadth of the impacts will catch most Alaskans by surprise. You can’t achieve those ambitious goals without reducing the big three areas of spending – K-12 education, healthcare and the university. In the current budget year, the University of Alaska is the third largest agency appropriation in the state, well behind K-12 education ($1.3 billion) and Health & Social Services ($1.1 billion), but larger than any of the fifteen other agencies the legislature funds every year – Corrections, DOT, Public Safety, Fish & Game, etc.
 
The Governor’s proposal eliminates funding for the Alaska WWAMI program, the medical school consortium offered by UAA in partnership with University of Washington (UW) School of Medicine and universities in Washington, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. The Alaska WWAMI Program is in its 45th year of successfully educating Alaskan physicians and consistently ranks among the top ten medical schools in the United States for primary care.
 
We will continue to analyze the details of today’s proposal and provide more information as it comes to light.

Stay Active and Engaged

The governor’s proposal is an early step in the development of the state’s spending plan. There are many opportunities for you to be active and involved. Your voice is absolutely critical. Within hours of today’s announcement, a large group of university supporters gathered on the steps of the Capitol to advocate loudly in support of higher education. Organized by the UAS Student Government and Faculty Senate, the event is an example of the power organized advocacy can have in Juneau.

University Reactions

On Monday, February 18th, President Johnsen and his senior staff will be meeting in Fairbanks with all three chancellors to discuss immediate actions and next steps. This meeting will provide early guidance for the Board of Regents as they put today’s news into context and develop a strategy for moving through the legislative process in the months ahead. We will continue to keep you informed as those plans develop and solicit your help and involvement.

Budget Hearings

Tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. Office of Management and Budget Director, Donna Arduin, will be presenting details of the Governor’s FY20 budget before the Senate Finance Committee. At the hearing, the committee will begin walking through the Governor’s proposal for each state agency with the OMB Director. Those reviews are expected to continue at their regularly scheduled 9:00 a.m. meetings Friday February 15th and Monday February 18th. At this time, we expect the university’s budget to be taken up by the committee on Tuesday, February 19th at 9:00 a.m.
 
All of these presentations should be accessible through 360 North’s Gavel Alaska or the meeting section of the Alaska State Legislature’s website.

 

February 6, 2019

Greetings from Juneau

Today’s the 23rd Legislative Day and the middle of a busy week for the University of Alaska in Juneau.

Monday’s House floor session was another clear demonstration that members haven’t reached a consensus on a governing majority. For the second time in two weeks, a move to elect Representative Dave Talerico (R-Healy) as permanent Speaker of the House failed on a 20-20 vote. Nome Democrat Representative Neal Foster is still serving as Speaker Pro Tempore, but as we’ve discussed previously, until they can agree to an organization, select permanent leadership and make committee assignments, they simply can’t perform legislative business. Yesterday’s floor session was cancelled, so today the House breaks its 1981 record for the longest stretch without an organization.

Compromise on the horizon? There have been reports that a small bipartisan group of House members are working on a power-sharing proposal that might help move them towards an organization. Although coalition organizations aren’t unusual in Alaska, power-sharing would be a new concept here. The approach has apparently been used in other states like Washington, Montana and Oregon with some success. No details are yet available, but participants are expected to brief their caucus members before the end of this week. With the Governor scheduled to release his FY20 budget amendments next Wednesday, February 13th, pressure to resolve the impasse will continue to build.

Senate Education Committee Hearings

Yesterday morning the Senate Education Committee held a hearing in response to the recent news that several initial licensure programs at UAA’s School of Education lost their accreditation. UA President Jim Johnsen, Commissioner of Education Michael Johnson and Alaska State Board of Education Chairman James Fields all appeared before the committee.

Addressing the committee first, Mr. Fields and Commissioner Johnson gave an update on the actions taken by the Board of Education at their meeting Monday afternoon in Juneau. At that meeting, the board unanimously approved the university’s request to consider students who will graduate from UAA’s School of Education this spring and summer, eligible for state licensure, and to clarify that they will have graduated from a state-approved program. This is excellent news for these seniors and ensures that they have a path to receive a license to teach in Alaska.

Next, President Johnsen provided the committee an overview of the programmatic accreditation process and an update on the current situation at UAA’s School of Education. The President’s message was clear: students are our highest priority. After thanking the Board of Education and Commissioner Johnson for their prompt response, he ensured committee members that he, the Board of Regents, and UAA Chancellor Sandeen are committed to resolving this issue, and to making things right by our students. The President discussed the conclusions reached by the program’s accreditor, the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), the actions UA is taking to assist impacted students, and the near-term schedule for Board of Regents’ deliberations on the issue. The Board of Regents will consider long-term options at their Academic and Student Affairs Committee meeting on February 21st and at the full Board meeting February 28th.

You can access committee documents and view yesterday’s hearing here.

Last Thursday the Senate Education Committee held a preliminary hearing on Senate Bill 31, which seeks to codify requirements on the transferability of general education credits between programs within the university. Dr. Paul Layer, VP of Students, Academics, Students & Research, provided an excellent overview of the work UA has done over the last several years to improve the credit transfer process, and outlined the Board of Regents existing policies on these topics. He underscored the importance our institution places on maximizing credit transferability between programs and campuses throughout the UA system. The committee took initial public testimony on the bill before setting it aside for further review.

You can access committee documents and view last week’s hearing here.

Senate Budget Subcommittee

The Senate started their FY20 Operating Budget Subcommittee hearings this week. Yesterday afternoon, the University of Alaska’s Subcommittee held an initial, largely organizational meeting. Senator Lyman Hoffman who will be chairing this year’s committee was joined by the three other committee members - Senators Natasha Von Imhof (R-Anchorage), Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak) and Scott Kawasaki (D-Fairbanks). Yesterday’s meeting was brief, with Legislative Finance budget analysist Michael Partlow and Hoffman finance staffer Tim Grussendorf walking subcommittee members through several charts illustrating 10-year state funding trends for the university. Senator Hoffman asked the members to let him know if there were specific topics they would like to explore in future meetings. Referencing the Senate Education Committee hearing he chaired earlier in the day, Senator Stevens suggested that it might be valuable to have the university provide an estimate of the cost associated with reaccrediting the initial licensure programs at UAA’s School of Education given that it’s estimated to be a three year process.

You can view the subcommittee hearing and documents here.

Earthquake Center Briefings in Juneau

Dr. Michael West, the State Seismologist and Director of the Alaska Earthquake Center at UAF, will be in Juneau for a series of meetings and hearings this week. There is heightened interest in the center’s work following the historic November 30th earthquake near Anchorage. This is an excellent opportunity to help educate legislators on the incredible work being done at the center, and the real-world benefits it provides 365-days a year. In their 2020 budget request, the Board of Regents requested $5 million in capital funding to help permanently expand the center’s network of seismic arrays in parts of northern and western Alaska. Dr. West will be participating in the following public events this week:

  • Today at Noon: Lunch & Learn for Legislators and Staff
    Earthquake Monitoring in Alaska: What we learned from the Nov 30th Anchorage Earthquake
  • Thursday, February 7th 9:00 a.m. Senate Education Committee
    Anchorage’s Recent Earthquake and Related Damage to School Facilities
  • Thursday, February 7th 1:30 p.m. Senate Transportation Committee
    Anchorage’s Recent Earthquake and Impact on Transportation Infrastructure

The University of Alaska’s Chief Risk Officer Tim Edwards will also participate in Thursday’s Senate Education Committee hearing to discuss damage our campuses sustained from the November 30th earthquake.

All of these presentations should be accessible through 360 North’s Gavel Alaska or the meeting section of the Alaska State Legislature’s website.

Alumni in the Capitol

Last week representatives from each of our three alumni associations came to Juneau to participate in their annual legislative fly-in. They maintained a busy schedule of legislative meetings, communicating our value, telling personal stories and advocating on our behalf. Alumni interest and enthusiasm is incredibly impactful and a valuable part of the legislative process. Thank you to the alumni who participated, and to UAA Director of Alumni Engagement Tina Teaford and UAF Director of Alumni Relations Theresa Bakker for helping plan and coordinate this year’s event.

Did-You-Know?

Alaska has its version of C-Span! Gavel Alaska is a statewide television service providing unedited live and tape-delayed coverage of state government. During session legislative coverage includes committee meetings, floor sessions, press conferences, and other proceedings. The service is provided by public television station 360 North in Juneau with the support of the community of Juneau and local stations such as UAF’s own KUAC.

January 30, 2019

Greetings from Juneau


It’s week three and the House is still divided. The absence of a governing majority is preventing the House of Representatives from doing any work of substance, impeding the overall legislative process, and raising doubts that business can be concluded before the 90-day statutory deadline. House members are working in temporary offices, with limited staff, and without committee assignments. And yet, at week’s end we’ll be one-fifth of the way through the legislative session.
 
The stalemate was on full display during last Tuesday’s floor session, when two names were brought forward as potential House speakers – Republican Dave Talerico of Healy and Dillingham Democrat Bryce Edgmon. You’ll recall that Representative Edgmon was House Speaker during the last legislature. Talerico’s nomination failed on a 20-20 vote, with three fellow Republican’s voting against. Anticipating a similar outcome, Edgmon’s name was withdrawn before a vote.
 
In an effort to keep the process moving, the House has arranged a series of informational sessions to help familiarize new and returning members with the many policy issues they will confront. Last week’s sessions included a jobs report from Labor Commissioner Tamika Ledbetter, revenue forecast from Revenue Commissioner Bruce Tangeman, and on Friday, an economic forecast from Dr. Mouhcine Guettabi of UAA’s Institute of Social & Economic Research (ISER). You can view Dr. Guettabi’s discussion here.


President Johnsen in the Capitol

UA President Jim Johnsen spent three days in Juneau last week meeting with legislators and staff to discuss the university’s budget and legislative priorities. With nearly 25 percent of legislators being new, the President is maintaining an aggressive legislative meeting calendar this year.  His message to policymakers is clear: you can’t have a great state without a great university.

The University of Alaska is the state’s most potent instrument for growing and diversifying Alaska’s economy.  UA is preparing Alaskans for success in an increasingly competitive, knowledge-based economy. As the largest producer of talent in the state, the university is integral to maintaining a skilled and capable workforce. Our leadership, faculty and staff are committed to excellence in each of our primary missions – education, research and service to the state. We are a world-class research institution, advancing knowledge, driving innovation and solving real-world problems that directly benefit Alaska. We lead the world in Arctic research and have built an international reputation that attracts faculty, students and investment. These research activities have tremendous economic value, with the majority of funding coming from outside the state. In short, we are an excellent public investment. We will continue to reinforce these key messages and our legislative priorities in the weeks ahead.

Next Tuesday, February 5, at 9:00 a.m., President Johnsen will be appearing before the Senate Education Committee to provide an update on the recent revocation of the UAA School of Education’s initial licensure programs. Representatives from the Department of Education and Early Development and the State Board of Education are also expected to be in attendance.


Senate Soldiers On

Undeterred by the House, the Senate is making the most of the first several weeks. As is the tradition in the first year of a two-year cycle, the Senate Finance Committee has been holding overview hearings on foundational topics: oil and gas production, North Slope leasing, state revenue forecasts, and presentations by the Alaska Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (AOGCC) and the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation. The committee continues this week with hearings on the public employee and teachers’ retirement systems, state labor contract negotiations and the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority.
 
In a somewhat unusual move for this early in the session, the Senate also began confirmation hearings for Governor Dunleavy’s cabinet-level appointees.  Late last week, one of those appointees, Jonathan Quick, the Commissioner of Administration, abruptly resigned after inconsistencies emerged between his application materials and his legislative testimony.
 
The Senate Finance Committee has announced operating budget subcommittee assignments. The University of Alaska budget subcommittee will be chaired by Senator Lyman Hoffman (D-Bethel) and includes:

  • Senator Natasha von Imhof (R-Anchorage)
  • Senator Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak)
  • Senator Scott Kawasaki (D-Fairbanks)

These are experienced legislators, familiar with the university and our budget. Senator von Imhof chaired our budget subcommittee for the last two years, and is serving as co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee this year. With Senator Stedman, she will be responsible for crafting the state’s overall spending plan in the Senate. Senator Stevens has served on the UA budget subcommittee in the past, and is chairing the Senate Education Committee this year. Scott Kawasaki is new to the Senate, but not to the budget process or the university, and has always been a strong supporter. We’re fortunate to have this seasoned team to work with this year.


Governor’s State of the State

In his first State of the State address last Tuesday night, Governor Dunleavy declared a “war on criminals” and reinforced his key campaign promise to protect the Permanent Fund Dividend and to cut state spending to match current revenues.
 
Budget reform was a prominent theme of the address, with the Governor characterizing the current process as “a mess” and concluding that “we’ve been spending wildly beyond our means.” He called for quick passage of his plan (SB 23/SB 24) to restore PFDs that were partially reduced over the last three years. He proposed three new constitutional amendments, one to create an annual spending limit, and two others to require a public vote to make changes to the PFD or to taxes. The package of constitutional amendments was introduced today.
 
The following morning, the Governor rolled out four crime bills designed to repeal the 2016 criminal justice reforms commonly referred to as “Senate Bill 91”. During the accompanying press availability, the Governor reiterated that public safety is the number one priority of his administration. “We’re not going to spare any resources that will be necessary to turn this around,” the Governor said.
 
You can read the full text of Governor Dunleavy’s speech here.


Hearing of the Week

If you only have time to watch one hearing from last week, I would recommend this one from last Wednesday. Governor Dunleavy’s new Office of Management & Budget (OMB) Director, Donna Arduin, gave her first public testimony before a standing room only crowd in the Senate Finance Committee. Details on the Governor’s FY20 spending plans have been scarce, and since Ms. Arduin is new to Alaska and relatively unknown in the Capitol, her first legislative appearance generated a lot of interest. As the head of OMB, Director Arduin is responsible for managing the state’s budget, and will be the principal architect of Dunleavy’s FY20 spending proposals. In one of his first acts as Governor, Dunleavy centralized the budget-making functions of all state agencies under OMB, reassigning each department’s Administrative Services Directors to the department. While Arduin’s testimony provided little additional detail on what may be coming in the administration’s February 13th budget amendments, she echoed many of the themes the Governor discussed during and after the election, and in his State of the State address. Given our serious revenue challenges, her message was clear, the state can expect to be “doing less with less."

The second half of Wednesday’s hearing, was a presentation by the director of the legislature’s non-partisan Finance Division, David Teal.  The Legislative Finance Division is responsible for providing the legislature with independent analysis of the state’s financial condition and helping facilitate the legislative budget process. As the division’s longtime director, Mr. Teal is a fixture in the Capitol and frequently called upon for his analysis of complex budget and fiscal policy issues.
 
Teal gave a stark assessment of the state’s finances. If tax increases are off the table, then the only budget balancing tools available are savings accounts and spending reductions. But with non-permanent fund savings having been depleted over the past seven years, we only have the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve Account (ERA) to address our structural budget deficits. While the ERA balance currently sits at $15 billion, unsustainable ERA draws are the financial equivalent of “eating our seed corn.” Jeopardizing, in Teal’s view, the account’s income earning potential and reducing its ability to help meet our future spending obligations.
 
His presentation also drew attention to the size of the PFD payment as compared to other state expenditures – including K-12 education, health and social services and the university. “There is a dollar-for-dollar trade-off between dividends and revenue, dividends and deficits, and dividends and government services.” Dividends compete with government services for available revenue. Teal referenced a recent meeting he had with a group of visiting university students from the Bristol Bay campus. The students are part of a week-long public policy course offered annually by professor Mike Davis focused on Alaska’s legislative process. Having shown much of the same presentation to the students, Teal shared a few of their observations with the committee. The students were surprised to learn that the PFD is the state’s largest single expenditure ($1.9 billion), consuming 37 percent of available revenues. They were similarly surprised to learn that state spending on education – K-12 and the university combined – is less than the amount proposed for this year’s PFD.
 
Overall, Mr. Teal provided a sobering look at the difficult options facing legislators this session. You can access the Arduin and Teal presentations and watch the hearing here.


Legislation of Interest

Yesterday the Senate Education Committee held a preliminary hearing on Senate Bill 30 which would expand existing middle college programs to every school district in the state. Middle colleges allow eligible high school students to take classes from the University of Alaska to earn both high school and college credit. Middle college is one of a number of dual enrollment and college-bridge programs designed to accelerate college-ready student’s ability to access postsecondary education. UA currently operates voluntary middle college programs in partnership with the Anchorage School District (ASD) and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District (MSBSD).
 
You can access background materials and view yesterday’s hearing here.
 
Senate Education Committee Chairman Gary Stevens has also introduced Senate Bill 31 which seeks to address the transferability of general education credits between programs within the university. We look forward to working with Senator Stevens and the committee on this issue. The Board of Regents has established policies on academic program integration (10.04.010), general education requirements (10.04.040) and transfer of credit (10.04.060). Establishing common curricula for general education requirements, integrating programming across the system, eliminating duplication, responding to shifting state needs and accommodating the many students who take courses from more than one campus are all top priorities of the board. It is in the interest of both the university and its students to provide the maximum transferability possible between programs and campuses.
 
Senate Bill 31 has been scheduled for a preliminary hearing in Senate Education at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow Thursday, January 31.


2019 Senator Ted Stevens Legislative Interns

We welcome another talented group of UA students to Juneau this session for the Senator Ted Stevens Legislative Internship Program. For 30 years, the legislature has hosted University of Alaska students to intern during the legislative session and to partake in this rigorous public policy program. During his life, Senator Stevens maintained a legendary commitment to education, public service, and the professional development of the next generation of Alaskan leaders. The Ted Stevens Foundation is continuing that legacy, and in recognition of its financial commitment to the program, we’ve renamed our internship the Senator Ted Stevens Legislative Internship Program. This year’s cohort is a diverse group of 11 students from all three universities and every region of our state:

  • Stuart Relay, UAF – Representative Tuck
  • Miranda Dordan, UAA – Representative Spohnholz
  • Erik Gunderson, UAA – Senator Begich
  • Jayden Hodgson, UAA – Senator Gray-Jackson
  • Radames Mercado-Barbosa, UAA – Senator Coghill
  • Shiela Morrison, UAA – Senator Hughes
  • Robin O’Donoghue, UAA – Senator Kawasaki
  • Marc Robertson, UAA – Senator Wielechowski
  • Nichole Bearden, UAS – Senator Kiehl
  • Cheyenne Girmscheid, UAS – Senator Micciche
  • Erin Laughlin, UAS – Senator Costello 

Past interns have gone on to work in law, public service, and industry, and even to serve in the legislature themselves. This is a great professional development opportunity, and worth recommending to all UA students regardless of their field of study or planned career track.


Federal Update - UA in the Beltway

Government Shutdown Ends…For Now?
Late last week congressional leaders and President Trump reached an agreement to end the federal government shutdown. The compromise funds the government for a three-week period, allowing the functions for the nine remaining departments who haven’t received any funding since before the holiday break to resume while congress continues to consider border security measures. Prior to the adoption of the stop-gap measure, the President signed into law an act that will ensure compensation for furloughed employees during the shutdown. Even though the government will be funded through February 15, normal operations are not expected to resume until agencies make up for the lost time and when a permanent, year-long funding package allows for planning. This is likely to hamper grant review panels as they try to schedule meetings.  
 
President Trump has maintained his position on funding for a “wall” on the U.S. southern border for $5.7 billion, and the House and Senate Democrats have maintained their position against funding a border “wall.” Negotiations have resolved the partial government shutdown for now, but there is already posturing for future action on the border security issue.
 
The 35-day shutdown was the longest in U.S. history and often took vitriolic tone including postponement of the President’s State of the Union address. More than 800,000 federal workers were furloughed during the shutdown, and an estimated 5,000 of Alaska’s 15,000 federal employees were impacted. Thank you to those at UA campuses who kept our government relations team informed about impacts of the shutdown. That information helps us keep Alaska’s Congressional Delegation informed. Alaska Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan voted for several compromises, including breaking with their caucus on aspects of a compromise package.
 
Congressional Organization
The 116th Congress gaveled into session on January 3 with a new majority in the House of Representatives. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will once again serve as the Speaker of the House. Congressman Don Young, serves as the “Dean of the House”, having a longer tenure than any other member in the body. Despite the change in leadership, Rep. Young continues serving on the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, and the Committee on Natural Resources. Young also serves on the House Republicans’ Steering Committee, which selects Republican committee members.
 
In the Senate, Republicans maintain their majority ensuring the chairmanship of Senator Lisa Murkowski for Energy & Natural Resources Committee.  Additionally, Sen. Murkowski continues to serve on the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, including chairing the Interior-Environment Subcommittee. She will also have assignments on the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee and the Indian Affairs Committee.
 
Senator Dan Sullivan continues his membership on the Commerce, Science & Transportation Committee; the Armed Services Committee; the Environment & Public Works Committee; and the Veterans Affairs Committee. Additionally, it was recently announced that Sen. Sullivan is the new Chair of the Senate Armed Services, Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support.
 
Federal Budget & Appropriations
Prior to the start of the FY19 fiscal year, Congress and the President agreed on five out of twelve federal appropriations bills. The package included funding for the Departments of Defense, Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Energy and Water – more than 75 percent of the discretionary dollars in the federal budget. However, Congress failed to agree on the remaining seven bills primarily due to the impasse on the President’s border wall request. 
 
The President’s submission to Congress of all or parts of his Fiscal year 2020 Budget, due by February 4, is likely to be delayed for a number of reasons, including the shutdown’s impact on staffing in the President’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the administration’s key agent for the development of the President’s budget request, and the seven other agencies that have staff furloughed.
 
A complicating factor for FY 2020 will be the need for both Houses of Congress to pass a budget resolution that sets ceilings for total discretionary spending. The funding caps set for FY 2020 in the Budget Control Act of 2011 are well below ($90 billion) the level of funding that will likely eventually be appropriated in FY 2019. Reaching agreement on FY 2020 and future year caps between the House and Senate with different majority parties will be difficult and likely ensures another contentious and delayed budget and appropriations cycle. 

 

Did-You-Know?

There are over 130 boards and commissions within state government. Their work ranges from licensing occupations and overseeing the Permanent Fund, to the mission our own UA Board of Regents.
 
The Governor appoints Alaskans to serve on boards & commissions, and these nominations must be submitted to the legislature no later than the 15th day of session. Most of these nominations, along with the Governor’s cabinet appointments, are subject to confirmation by a vote of the legislature. The House and Senate considers these nominations both in committees and during a joint-session of the legislature usually held near the end of session. 
 
Do you serve on a state board or advisory committee? Let us know!

For more information, contact Miles Baker, Associate Vice President of Government Relations, at 907-463-3086 or miles.baker@alaska.edu.

January 22, 2019

The Capitol Report: Start of Session

It’s week two for the 31st Alaska Legislature. There’s a level of excitement and enthusiasm that naturally accompanies the start of every session. But with the House still not organized and Governor Mike Dunleavy’s spending proposal yet to be released, this year’s start is notable for the uncertainty and anxiety in the air. How these two obstacles are resolved will largely shape the tenor and tone of the entire session.

Your government relations team is on the ground and fully engaged in working on behalf of the University of Alaska. We look forward to providing you regular updates and analysis on the overall legislative process and legislation of interest including the university’s budget.

Our goal is to keep the university community educated and informed about issues important to UA, higher education and the future of our state. We’ll be closely monitoring the session and looking for ways you can proactively engage in the process.
 

Election Results

The 2018 election profoundly reshaped the political landscape in Alaska. Mike Dunleavy, Alaska’s new Governor, was elected on a platform of cutting state spending, protecting the permanent fund dividend and reducing crime. These priorities will drive the legislative agenda but also challenge an already difficult budget environment.

Governor Dunleavy is the first educator to be elected governor, and only the second University of Alaska alum to hold the office after the late Jay Hammond. He received his Masters degree in Education from UAF in 1990, taught school in rural Alaska and was superintendent of the Northwest Arctic Borough School District. He served on the Mat-Su School Board and worked briefly in the teacher mentoring program at UA, before being elected to the Alaska Senate.

The Governor’s new cabinet also includes three other UA alumni:

  • Michael Johnson (PhD Education, UAF) - Commissioner, Dept. of Education & Early Development
  • Doug Vincent-Lang (M.S. Oceanography, UAF) - Commissioner Dept. of Fish & Game
  • Julie Anderson (B.A. Business Admin, UAF) - Commissioner, Dept. of Commerce Community & Economic Development

Legislative Organization

Following each state election, legislators start a process known inside the Capitol as “organization.” It’s an exercise in coalition building, networking, and at times brinkmanship. Members work to secure support from enough of their colleagues to weave together a majority “caucus” capable of establishing working control of their respective body.

Not surprisingly, caucuses normally form along party lines, but there are exceptions and bi-partisan coalitions are not unusual in Alaska. In the last legislature for example, three moderate republicans and two independents joined with Democrats to form a bi-partisan coalition in the House. In prior years, rural Democrats have joined Republican led organizations to help protect their districts’ interests. Coastal legislators have periodically organized with interior legislators to form working majorities aligned less on partisan affiliation, and more around similar policy objectives.

Deadlock in the House

The 2018 election has made organizing the House of Representatives especially difficult. For only the third time in state history, the House convened last week without selecting a Speaker of the House. After lengthy recounts, court battles and public posturing, the House remains divided, with neither party able to achieve a working majority.

While Republicans hold 23 seats by party registration, personalities, policy differences and political alliances have impeded their ability to form a purely Republican majority. Kenai Republican Rep. Gary Knopp announced in December that he would only support a bi-partisan coalition. Meanwhile, Republicans Louise Stutes of Kodiak and Gabrielle LeDoux of Anchorage, along with Independent Rep. Dan Ortiz of Ketchikan are working to organize with the 16 House Democrats. The 20 remaining Republicans are hoping to put together a Republican-led majority.

Why does this indecision matter? The outcome of these organizational negotiations determine leadership positions, committee membership and set the policy priorities for the body. Without an organization the House can’t elect a Speaker, legislation can’t be introduced and committees can’t be formed. There’s just no way to conduct the state’s business.

For the first three days of session, Lieutenant Governor Kevin Meyer of Anchorage presided over the House. Late last week, there was a slight breakthrough when Rep. Neal Foster (D-Nome) was overwhelmingly selected as Speaker Pro Tempore. In this role, he will serve as temporary speaker until they resolve the stalemate, settle on a final organizational structure and elect a permanent Speaker.

Senate Organization

In the Senate, this year’s organization was a relatively smooth process. Senate President Cathy Giessel (R-Anchorage) will lead a 14 member caucus of thirteen Republicans and the Senate’s longest serving member Democrat Senator Lyman Hoffman of Bethel. The rest of the Senate leadership is comprised of:

  • Sen. Bert Stedman (R-Sitka) - Finance Co-Chair for Operating Budget
  • Sen. Natasha von Imhof (R – Anchorage) - Finance Co-Chair for Capital Budget & Legislation
  • Sen. John Coghill (R – North Pole) –  Rules Committee Chair
  • Sen. Mia Costello (R-Anchorage) – Majority Leader

Senator Tom Begich of Anchorage will serve as minority leader of the six-member Democrat caucus. Interestingly, the Senate Finance Committee was expanded this year from seven members to nine. Expanding the committee and easing the rules related to final budget votes, should help the Senate reach consensus on a final budget. But to be sure, this was an unusual move. Almost half the Senate, nine of 20 members, now sit on this powerful committee.

Budget Outlook

Before leaving office, Governor Walker released his state spending plan for the coming year. To meet the December 15th statutory deadline for introducing his own FY20 budget, Governor Dunleavy advanced Walker’s budget as a placeholder with two notable changes: an unallocated $1.6 billion spending cut, and a $1,200 bump to the 2019 Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) – increasing it from $1,800 per individual to approximately $3,000. Last week, Governor Dunleavy reiterated his position that annual state sending should not exceed current year revenues, and that the PFD amount should be calculated based on the current statutory formula.

Alaska has a math problem. Even after accounting for an expected more than $2 billion draw from the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve Account (ERA), the state still faces a sizable budget deficit. For each of the last 7 years, the state has had to rely on non-Permanent Fund savings accounts to balance the budget. Oil prices have dropped significantly since hitting nearly a 4-year peak of $80 in October. Paying a full dividend and matching spending to current revenue will require a $1.6 billion reduction over the current year’s spending levels. It’s hard to imagine a budget scenario that achieves these ambitious goals without impacting the university’s budget.

The Governor has until February 13th to present his final budget which is expected to contain more details on how he intends to achieve the $1.6 billion reduction. Until he does, the state remains in a bit of a budget limbo, and the anxiety levels in Juneau remain elevated.

This Wednesday morning at 9 a.m., Donna Arduin, the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget Director may shed some light on the Governor’s approach to these budget decisions when she presents to the Senate Finance Committee. We’ll be following the proceedings closely, and include an update in our next Capitol Report.

Retroactive PFD

Late last week, the Governor introduced legislation that would restore a total of $3,600 per Alaskan to the last three years of dividend payments. The proposals are estimated to cost $2 billion over the next three years. Senate Bill 23 and Senate Bill 24 would add supplemental payments to each of the next three years of PFDs:

  • $1,061 this year for the 2016 dividend
  • $1,289 in 2020 for the 2017 dividend
  • $1,328 in 2021 for the 2018 dividend

Given the budget challenges already facing the legislature, this proposal is sure to generate a great deal of debate in the coming weeks.

Our new voice in Washington DC

We are pleased to welcome Dustin Bryant our new Director of Federal Relations based in Washington, D.C. In this role, Dustin will serve as UA’s principal federal liaison, working to advance our strategic priorities within Congress, the Executive, and federal agencies. Prior to joining UA, he served as Assistant Director of Federal Relations for the Texas A&M's University System representing A&M’s eleven campuses and seven state agencies in D.C.

Did-You-Know?

Legislators can introduce bills before they are even sworn into office! The Alaska Legislature’s Uniform Rules, which governs legislative procedures, includes a process known as “prefiling”. Rule 36 allows legislators to request bills be drafted and submitted for numbering to the Legislature’s Legal Services Division before the first day of session. This is often used by legislators to grab early headlines and stake out positions on policy issues going into session.


For more information, contact Miles Baker, Associate Vice President of Government Relations, at 907-463-3086 or miles.baker@alaska.edu.