Capitol Report: January 21, 2022

Jan. 21, 2022

The 2nd Regular Session of the 32nd Legislature Convenes

The 2nd regular session of the 32nd Legislature began Tuesday, Jan. 18. However, even before the official “gavel-in,” legislators were holding committee hearings on hot button issues including the Capitol’s COVID-19 policies.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day was a particularly busy day in the capitol. The Joint Legislative Council Committee met and members voted to keep the Capitol Building open to the public while continuing to require masks and frequent testing for lawmakers and staff. 

For now, the general public is welcome in the building as long as they wear masks. Testing for the public is based on the honor system. This is something for student and alumni groups to keep in mind as they plan Juneau advocacy trips this year.    

Legislative Council also voted in favor of filing an amicus brief (“Friend of the Court”) in the recent lawsuit filed by four university students to restore funding to the Higher Education Investment Fund.  The amicus brief supports the students. The same afternoon the Joint Legislative Budget and Audit Committee met and approved $60M in FY22 supplemental federal receipt authority for the university relating to new federal contracts at UAF’s University Affiliated Research Center (UARC). This is great news for the university. 

The session officially kicked off Tuesday afternoon when the House and Senate gaveled in. In a speech from the dais, Speaker Louise Stutes requested a return to decorum in the House after a year filled with budget stand-offs and extended special sessions. Pre-filed legislation was then referred to committees for upcoming hearings. Notably:

  • House Bill 21 by Rep. Wool (D-Fairbanks), would add a faculty member to the UA Board of Regents, and was referred to House Education where it was heard this morning.

  • House Bill 229 by Rep. Josephson (D-Anchorage) would protect the Higher Education Investment Fund (HEIF) and students who rely on scholarships, needs based grants, and the WWAMI medical program. The bill would create subsidiaries under the Alaska Student Loan Corporation to manage the Higher Education Investment Fund, effectively protecting the fund from annual sweeps into the Constitutional Budget reserve and keep the scholarships secure during annual legislative budget negotiations. HB 229 was referred to the House Education committee where it remains to be scheduled.    

  • House Bill 250 by Rep. Wool would fully restore funds to sub accounts of the General Fund that were swept into the Constitutional Budget Reserve in FY21 and was referred to the House Finance Committee. It has not yet been scheduled. This bill is really about protecting the HEIF.

Thanks to Rep. Josephson and Rep. Wool for their leadership roles in protecting our student scholarship funding.

Budget Proceedings

Senate and House Finance committees began the week listening to revenue forecast from the Department of Revenue (DOR). The revenue forecast, published in fall of 2021, projects that Unrestricted General Fund revenue will be $5.7B in FY22 and $5.9B in FY23. Notably, oil prices have gone up since the revenue forecast was published. DOR currently projects FY22 oil prices at $80/barrel (as opposed to the $75 originally published) and $78 (as opposed to $71) in FY23. The variation amounts to an additional revenue of $281M in FY22 and $470M in FY23. 

UA in the Capitol

University representatives will be testifying in several meetings over the next week: