Capitol Report: January 14, 2022

Jan. 14, 2022

As the Legislature returns to the Capitol, the state budget and protecting the Higher Education Investment Fund remain university’s top legislative priorities

The second session of the 32nd legislature opens next Tuesday, January 18. Legislators and staff have begun to arrive in Juneau from districts across the state. In the last weeks before session begins, new pieces of legislation are being pre-filed for introduction. The first batch of pre-filed bills was released to the public on Friday, Jan 7. Another handful was released today. 

Among the newly filed bills are several that relate to the university system. Of particular interest is House Bill 229, introduced by Representative Andy Josephson (D-Anchorage). HB 229 would allow the Alaska Student Loan Corporation to create subsidiaries to manage the financing and facilitation of the Alaska Performance Scholarship, the Alaska Education Grant and the WWAMI medical scholarships. Rep. Josephson’s legislation is timely after four University of Alaska students recently filed a lawsuit challenging the “sweep” of the unspent funds of the Higher Education Investment Fund (HEIF) into the Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR). The HEIF, currently valued at approximately $410 million, is the current source of funding for the Alaska Performance Scholarship, Alaska Education Grants and the WWAMI medical scholarships. Each year, roughly 5,400 students receive $15.1 million in financial aid from these programs. 

During the 2022 legislative session, legislators also will be reviewing the governor’s proposed FY23 budget. Notably, this year the governor added $26.8 million to the UA’s budget. The governor’s budget for the university includes a $4 million increase toward stabilizing state general fund operating support and $22.8 million in one-time federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding for specific areas of investment that will contribute to the state’s economic recovery. These investment areas include $7.8 million for critical minerals and rare earth elements research, $5 million for heavy oil recovery method research, and $10 million for the drone program. The capital budget also includes $20 million for updated IT systems, funded with the state’s coronavirus capital projects fund. Additionally, the governor’s budget includes $94.4 million in federal budget authority for UAF's R/V Sikuliaq Seward Infrastructure project and a $300 million general obligation transportation and infrastructure bond that has $18.65 million for the University of Alaska Fairbanks - Bartlett Hall and Moore Hall Modernization and Renewal project.

During the session, the university will continue to promote accessible higher education by raising its voice in UA’s best interests. Your voice is also important during this process. Please reach out to your state senators and representatives and share with them how the University of Alaska is important to you. Senators and representatives’ contact information can be found here: Alaska Legislature’s homepage.