May 4 Capitol Report
House Passes TVEP Renewal, Debates Operating Budget
Today is the 106th day of the Legislative Session. Lawmakers are working against a deadline of May 19 to meet the constitutional 121-day limit for regular sessions of the Legislature. If this does not occur, there are three options by which lawmakers could conclude their work.
Alaska’s Constitution provides lawmakers an option to extend the session by up to 10 days through a two-thirds vote of each legislative body. Alternatively, with the support of two-thirds of the entire Legislature (40 of 60), lawmakers could simply adjourn the regular session and call themselves back into a 30-day special session. Finally, Governor Dunleavy could call the Legislature into a 30-day special session and limit the topics on the table for discussion.
With big decisions still remaining –– the FY22 budget, federal relief funding, and the PFD –– the session is expected to go down to the wire and there is an accelerated pace around the Capitol.
Operating Budget On The House Floor
House legislators worked through the weekend in an attempt to pass the FY22 Operating and Mental Health Budgets –– HB 69 and HB 71. Debate began on Friday and continued into Saturday with consideration of amendments – 70 of which were proposed by members of the House Minority.
The House remains closely divided as a body, which has complicated passage of the budget. The 21-member majority caucus is comprised of 15 Democrats, two Republicans and four independents. On the opposite side is an 18-member Republican minority caucus. Representative Sara Rasmussen (R-Anchorage) serves on the House Finance Committee but has not joined either caucus. These slim margins mean that legislators on both sides of the aisle are potential swing votes. This was evident by passage of several budget amendments offered by the minority on Saturday.
On Sunday, a procedural motion to continue consideration of amendments failed by a vote of 20-20. This effectively closed off debate and ended consideration of dozens of proposed amendments, sparking concern among several members, and ultimately raising questions of whether House leadership had the votes to pass the budget. As a procedural move, the budget was sent back to the House Rules Committee to allow for additional negotiation and future rescheduling on the floor. Once the House passes the budget, the Senate will make changes to reflect its position. The bill will eventually be finalized by a conference committee to reconcile the differences.
While occasional and unforeseen delays are common at this stage of the legislative process, the bare minimum majority existing in the House certainly complicates finalizing the FY22 spending plan. Contentious issues such as the size of this year’s PFD and the appropriation of more than $1 billion in federal funds through the American Rescue Plan Act, remain unresolved.
UA Senate Subcommittee Closeout
Senate Operating Budget Subcommittees are closing out their work and consideration of agency budgets. The university’s subcommittee recommended $267 million in unrestricted general funds (UGF). This constitutes a $10 million, rather than $20 million, drop from current year levels, and $60 million below FY19. The subcommittee has proposed adding $10 million to the university’s base operating budget and splitting UA’s funding into two separate appropriations - $214.5 million for UAA, UAF and the System Office; and $52.5 million for UAS and our community campuses. Thank you to Subcommittee Chair Senator Lyman Hoffman and Finance Co-Chair Senator Bert Stedman for their support. You can view the subcommittee closeout report here.
Governor Signs Emergency Declaration Bill, Ends Emergency Order
Last week Governor Dunleavy signed legislation that retroactively extended the State of Alaska’s COVID-19 emergency declaration. This issue has been hotly debated by lawmakers during the past several weeks. The legislation was needed to ensure Alaska remained eligible for federal funding, such as food assistance benefits for low-income Alaskans, which can only be received under an emergency declaration. Immediately after signing the legislation, House Bill 76, Governor Dunleavy issued a declaration calling an end to the pandemic emergency. Subsequently, the Alaska Department of Health & Social Services issued a more limited order preserving the state’s eligibility and basic safeguards.
TVEP Passes House, Heard in Senate Finance
Last Wednesday, the House passed legislation that helps sustain UA’s workforce development programs. House Bill 100 reauthorizes the Technical Vocational Education Program (TVEP) for three years. This program brings in more than $5 million to UA each year for career and technical education programs. The bill received broad support in passing the House 36-4, and has already received quick consideration by the Senate Finance Committee. Thank you to Representative Adam Wool for sponsoring this legislation and helping champion continued workforce development. You can view the House Floor debate here, and the Senate Finance Committee hearing here.
Senator Sullivan Visits Capitol
U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan was in Juneau this week to provide an address to a joint session of the Legislature. His speech highlighted opportunities in the Arctic and putting Alaska’s best minds to work in the area of research. The Senator discussed expanding the Coast Guard’s capabilities in Alaska, and the recent accomplishment of having the NOAA research ship Fairweather home-ported in Alaska. He touted Alaska as central to national energy policy, with a specific nod to microgrid research. The address also paid tribute to former legislator and UA regent Hugh “Bud” Fate. You can view the Senator’s speech here.
Teacher Report Presented to Senate
Yesterday, the Senate Education Committee heard a presentation on the University of Alaska’s work in the area of teacher recruitment, training and retention. UA Vice President Paul Layer and Executive Dean Steve Atwater presented the biannual report to Senators detailing how our university’s works to grow the ranks of K-12 educators in Alaska. The hearing provided a great discussion about the challenges in recruiting and retaining educators, and the millions it costs school districts annually. You can view the hearing here.