Capitol Report - March 14, 2022

March 14, 2022

The Legislature Anticipates Substantial Revenue Increases with the Release of the Spring Revenue Forecast, and UA Experts participate in Juneau for Alaska Aerospace Day

Legislators have postponed operating budget conversations while they wait for the release of the Spring Revenue Forecast later this week. In the meantime, the House has been considering deferred maintenance capital requests. Separately, last week representatives from the Geophysical Institute and the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft System Integration (ACUASI) joined the Lieutenant Governor in Juneau to celebrate Alaska Aerospace Day.

Two weeks ago, the House Finance Committee introduced the committee substitute for the operating budget. This new version of the bill includes the amendments accepted by house finance subcommittees earlier in the week. Notably, the operating budget for the University of Alaska was increased from $871.4 million in the governor’s proposed budget to $879.8 million in the committee substitute. The changes included an additional $4 million for fixed and operating cost increases, $3.5 million for College of Health Program faculty, $250,000 for medical simulation equipment and technology, and $635,000 for the Alaska Library Network and the Imagination Library. The committee substitute also includes $1.6 million in the Department of Education and Early Development (DEED) budget to expand the WWAMI program. The $1.6 million may be carried forward until FY24 in order to give the program time to increase its capacity.

Budget negotiations have slowed as legislators wait for the March 15 updated revenue forecast. With Alaska crude oil prices hitting $125 last week, revenue projections are anticipated to be much higher than initially projected last fall. Legislators will utilize the spring revenue forecast to inform their upcoming budgetary decisions. In the meantime, the House Finance Committee is beginning to review capital budget requests. The Senate Finance Committee will start reviewing the operating budget again on Wednesday, March 16, starting with department overviews.

UA in the Capitol

The House Finance Committee is beginning its work considering the capital budget. Last Thursday the UA Government Relations team, as well as facility managers from our three universities, shared the deferred maintenance needs of the university system. Legislators responded positively to the request. You can watch the hearing here.

While most eyes were on the budget process, the university system had several other appearances in the Capitol last week. Last Wednesday, Lieutenant Governor Kevin Meyer invited experts from the university system to present in Senate Labor & Commerce for Alaska Aerospace Day. Dr. Cathy Cahill with the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft System Integration (ACUASI) and Dr. Robert McCoy with the Geophysical Institute presented the relevant research being done at UAF. You can watch the hearing here. Lieutenant Governor Meyer invited Dr. Cahill and ACUASI Business Director Jimmy Parrish to his office after the event to hear more details on ACUASI programs.

Separately, Dr. Amy Vinelove, Director of the UAF School of Education, presented to the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday morning. Dr. Vinelove shared the university system’s efforts and pathways for training Alaskan teachers. Committee members were deeply interested in UAA’s teacher accreditation program. You can watch the hearing here.

Bills on the Move

Wednesday afternoon the House Labor & Commerce Committee considered Representative Bryce Edgmon’s (I- Dillingham) House Bill 363, relating to creating a broadband office and advisory board. The legislation, as written, includes a member from the University of Alaska on the advisory board. We support this legislation, as the university system is one of the largest users of broadband statewide. You can watch the hearing here.

Representative Andy Josephson’s (D-Anchorage) House Bill 229 relating to securing the Higher Education Investment Fund, was heard in House Finance on Thursday morning. UA Government Relations Director Chad Hutchison spoke in the committee to share the university system’s support for the legislation. You can watch the hearing here.

On Friday morning, the Senate Education committee heard Senate Bill 146 relating to textbook cost transparency and House Bill 132 – the “Alaska Apprenticeship Expansion Act”. The committee passed Senate Bill 146 out of committee. It is waiting for a referral to the next committee.

This Week’s Calendar

Monday, March 14

  • 8:00a.m. – House Education: House Bill 36: “U of A Regents Reporting Requirements”
            House Bill 108: Concurrent Secondary & Trade School”

         House Bill 48: “Alaska Performance Scholarship; Eligibility”

Tuesday, March 15

  • 8:00a.m. - House Community & Regional Affairs: House Bill 298: “Alaska Food Strategy Task Force”

  • 3:15: House Labor & Commerce: House Bill 363: “Broadband; Office, Grants, Parity”

Wednesday, March 16

  • 9:00 a.m.: House Finance: House Bill 281: “Appropriations: Operating Budget/Loans/Funds”
  • 9:00 a.m.: Senate Education: Senate Bill 225: “Teacher Registered Apprenticeship Programs”
  • 1:30 p.m.: House Finance: House Bill 281: “Appropriations: Operating Budget/Loans/Funds”

Thursday, March 17

  • 1:30 p.m.: House Finance: House Bill 281: “Appropriations: Operating Budget/Loans/Funds”

Friday, March 18