Capitol Report for Feb. 14

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 February 14, 2020

Capitol Report

Happy Valentine’s Day

The House Finance Committee is on track to complete its work on the FY21 operating budget by the end of next week. Legislative leadership is driving hard to complete the budget process and to transmit it to the Governor for his review, well in advance of the legislature adjourning. Given recent history, this is an ambitious goal, but if successful, it would give the legislature the option of taking further action in the event that portions of the budget are vetoed. Alaska’s constitution gives the governor 15 days, excepting Sundays, to act on a bill while the legislature is in session. 
Individual agency subcommittees are finalizing recommendations and forwarding them to the full House Finance Committee for consideration next week. The committee has scheduled twice-daily meetings on the budget next week, and public testimony for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings, and Saturday afternoon. The committee’s full schedule for next week is available here.

University of Alaska Budget Action
The university’s house budget subcommittee held its fifth hearing on the university’s FY21 operating budget last night, adopted three amendments, and has largely concluded work for this year. Consistent with the 3-year budget compact signed in August, the Board of Regents (BOR) requested an FY21 operating budget of $277 million unrestricted general funds (UGF), $25 million below current year levels, and $50 million below FY19. In the budget submitted to the legislature, the Governor allocated 55 percent of the $25 million reduction to UAF, 38 percent to UAA and 7 percent to statewide administration. In its first action last night, the subcommittee unanimously agreed to remove those individual allocations, which will allow the regents flexibility in deciding where to apply budget reductions. At the university’s request, the committee also agreed to combine the separate allocations for UAF Organized Research with UAF Fairbanks Main Campus. UAF believes organized research can be tracked more simply and effectively through internal program codes, without the need for a separate allocation.
In a third action, the subcommittee introduced and adopted an amendment to add $10.5 million to the university’s base operating budget for compensation increases. University employees have been under a BOR imposed salary freeze for the last two years. In June 2019, the university completed a comprehensive compensation and benefits review designed to improve equity, retention, and recruitment. In September, the BOR approved a three year compensation plan that included $3.4 million in the current FY20 budget year and $7.1 million for FY21. Unlike other public agencies, UA salary adjustments are not automatically adjusted into the base budget considered by the legislature. While the university has included the Board’s compensation plan in its budget presentations to the legislature, incremental funding was not part of the university’s FY21 request.
During his State of the Judiciary address to the Legislature on Tuesday, Chief Justice Bolger also requested a 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment for the court system, to match the adjustment included in this year’s budget for executive and legislative branch employees. Last year, most of executive and legislative brand employees received a 3 percent adjustment. 
You can watch last night’s hearing and review the subcommittee’s action sheetfrom the legislature’s website. The subcommittee will hold a final, technical closeout meeting next Tuesday, February 18 at 5 p.m. We would like to thank subcommittee chair Representative Andy Josephson and subcommittee staff Nathaniel Grabman for their hard work this year, and all the members for their strong support of the university.

Capitol Happenings
On Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee held a hearing on UA’s efforts to increase enrollment, and improve teacher training and retention. Vice President Paul Layer discussed how our campuses are working to enhance enrollment through marketing, scholarships and student success initiatives. Alaska College of Education Executive Dean Steve Atwater gave a detailed presentation about how UA is recruiting professionals into the teaching profession, accreditation issues, and addressing teacher shortages affecting schools nationwide. You can view the meeting here.
Education will continue to be a hot topic in the Capitol next week, with several pieces of legislation in play, and the Alaska State Board of Education & Early Development meeting with the House and Senate Education Committees.
On Tuesday morning, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski will give her annual address to a joint session of the Legislature.

Bills on the Move
Next Wednesday morning, the House Education Committee will hear House Bill 155, which broadens the criteria for the Alaska Performance Scholarship. The legislation by Representative Andi Story adds career and technical education to the list of subjects students can pursue to qualify for the scholarship.
Next Friday afternoon the House Labor & Commerce Committee will hear legislation that will help sustain UA’s workforce development programs. House Bill 235 by Representative Adam Wool reauthorizes the Technical Vocational Education Program (TVEP). The program uses a portion of employee unemployment insurance contributions to fund high-demand career and technical education programs. It brings in more than $6 million to UA each year. The program is scheduled to sunset at the end of the fiscal year, and we will be working with legislators to move this bill through the process.
On Thursday, UA’s Associate Vice President for Workforce Programs, Teri Cothren, provided the house budget subcommittee with an overview of the benefits to Alaska of the Technical Vocational Education Program (TVEP). You can view that hearing here.

Board of Regents
The Board of Regents wraps up the second day of committee meetings today in advance of their regularly scheduled board meeting next week in Fairbanks. The board’s committees on Academic and Student Affairs, and Facilities and Land Management convened yesterday, and the Audit and Governance committees met today.
Next week’s two-day full board meeting will be held Thursday and Friday at UAF’s Butrovich Building, Room 109. The agenda includes a review of the board’s strategic goals, university athletics and an update from the University of Alaska Foundation.
The board will take public testimony on Thursday morning starting at 8:15 a.m. More information on the board’s activities this week and next week, including agendas can be found here.
As always, board meetings are streamed live at

D.C. Opportunity for Alaska Students

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski is now accepting applications for her High School Intern Program. The program is open to graduating high school seniors to work in the Senator’s Washington D.C. office this summer. Senator Murkowski also is seeking two intern coordinators who will supervise the High School Interns in their daily activities. The deadline to apply for both opportunities is 11:59 p.m. Alaska Standard Time on Monday, March 16, 2020.