Veto override countdown

President Jim Johnsen

Dear UA Community –

This morning I learned from a key legislative leader that the vote to override the governor’s vetoes is set for Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. This vote will have a major impact on the university’s future. If legislators do not override, the governor’s $130 million cut to the legislature’s budget for the university will leave us no option but to consider a declaration of financial exigency.

If they do override the governor’s vetoes, we get to take a breath, but not for long as we must prepare now our budget for next year with the very same unresolved conflicts facing our state on such issues as the PFD and the “size of government.” There is some talk of supplemental funding in the capital budget if the override fails. While unlikely to result in enough funding to eliminate major base budget reductions, such funding could help with the costs of transition from our current state to a future, leaner university.

Our focus in the coming days needs to be on the override. Failure to override the governor’s vetoes will result in deep cuts to educational programs, essential research and community services across the state. Not a single campus anywhere in the state, including community campuses, can be spared from cuts.

Knowing that all of you have put forward an extraordinary effort on behalf of the university, I want to thank you for your advocacy to keep UA Strong. You have rallied and written your legislators; carried UA Strong signs in Fourth of July parades all over the state; expressed your support in print and on social media growing UA Strong to more than 2,500 followers; and, exhibited in so many ways why the university is important to you and crucial to this state’s future. Thank you!

Make no mistake, you have been heard. In a statewide survey done last week for UA Strong, 61 percent of Alaskans said they oppose the governor’s $130 million veto of the legislature’s budget for the university and 59 percent said they would tell their legislator to vote to override it. Just 17 percent said they support the vetoes. The July survey was done to determine how Alaskans feel about the veto of the legislature’s budget, and 72 percent of Alaskans said the cut would be detrimental to the university.

Your voices also have been heard across the country by leaders of higher education organizations who have written to legislators on our behalf and by the national media. Already Bloomberg News, National Public Radio, The Chronicle of Higher Education, the Washington Post and the New York Times have published or aired stories about the governor’s $130 million veto of the legislature’s budget for the university. Links to all of these letters of support and national articles can be found on the UA Strong Facebook page.

The article in Sunday’s New York Times mentioned a document I discussed with Gov. Dunleavy regarding a $49 million cut to our budget. The document [posted at fy2020-budget/index.xml] provided the governor context,illustrated the flaws in OMB’s analysis, and articulated the harm that a large cut would do to students and to the contributions UA makes to the state. Even if one could justify a reduction using this type of analysis, my attempt was to show the governor the enormous difference between a $135 million cut in one year and a $49 million cut spread over four years. The first, as I told him, would be devastating, the second would be tough but would give us time and breathing room to manage through. We know now his response.

I know the next several days will be difficult as we wait to see what the legislature will do, but I urge you to stay positive, keep up the pressure, attend the rallies in your respective cities and towns and continue to show your support for the University of Alaska. I also remind you that university employees attending a rally during their work hours must claim leave if you are on contract after consulting with your supervisor to ensure operations are not disrupted. UA resources may not be used to attend or participate.

As we move forward into this week, remember the old call to action:

If not you, who?
If not for this, what?
If not here, where?
If not now, when?

Thank you!


Jim Johnsen