State Relations

The Capitol Report

The second session of the 29th Alaska State Legislature started January 19, 2016. To receive each Capitol Report as its distributed please sign up to the Support UA list serv. To subscribe, please click here!

May 31, 2016
The Capitol Report 

 By Chris Christensen
Associate Vice President for State Relations

Special Session Day 9

Today is the ninth day of the special session. The legislature has been in session continuously since January 19, but it now appears that it will conclude its work in a few days.

Last night, after more than a month of negotiations, the House and Senate Majorities struck a deal with the House Minority on the operating budget. The conference committee that was reconciling the differences between the House and Senate budgets implemented the budgetary terms of the deal, and the full House and Senate adopted the conference committee’s version of the operating budget earlier today. The news for UA is positive.

As you know, the dramatic reduction in state revenues made budget cuts inevitable. The governor proposed an FY17 budget for UA that contained a $15 million cut from the current fiscal year. The Senate passed a budget that contained a $25 million cut, and the House passed a budget that contained a $50 million cut. The conference committee had originally voted to adopt the House’s $50 million cut.

However, after much negotiating, the conference committee changed its mind and the legislature has enacted an operating budget for UA at $335 million -- a $15 million cut from the current year.

If you read the Fairbanks News-Miner or the Alaska Dispatch News this morning, you saw the report that the conference committee had decided on a $25 million cut for UA. That information was incorrect; the actual cut is $15 million.

The operating budget will now go to Governor Walker for his signature or veto. Hopefully the governor approves of the deal.

We will have more information after the session wraps up.

Thank you for all your work to promote and support the University of Alaska!

---

For more information, contact Associate Vice President Chris Christensen at

cschristenseniii@alaska.edu or visit www.alaska.edu/state.

 

May 19, 2016
The Capitol Report 

 By Chris Christensen
Associate Vice President for State Relations

The Second Regular Session of the 29th Alaska State Legislature ended yesterday just before midnight. It was the 121st legislative day, the session limit mandated by the Alaska Constitution. The constitution gives lawmakers the option of having one 10-day extension, if two-thirds of the House and two-thirds of the Senate vote to extend. While the Senate voted for the extension, the House fell short by one vote.

The operating budget and the capital budget did not pass before adjournment, nor did any of the deficit reduction bills proposed by Governor Walker. Because of that, the governor has called the legislature into special session in Juneau, beginning on Monday at 11:00 a.m. Special sessions may last up to 30 days and are limited to specific topics, but there is no limit on the number of special sessions that can be called. You can view the governor’s proclamation and the list of topics that are on the special session agenda here: http://akleg.gov/docs/pdf/29special/29th-special_4.pdf

As noted in the last Capitol Report, the legislature needed to access funds from state savings accounts to cover the estimated $4 billion deficit next year. The preferred method is to take the money from the Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR), which requires a three-quarters vote of the Senate and a three-quarters vote of the House. The Senate had the votes to do that, but the House did not. The last month of the session involved behind-the-scenes negotiations between the House Minority and the majority organizations of the House and Senate. Reportedly, the House Minority would only agree to provide the votes needed to access the CBR if the majorities agreed to put more money in the operating budget for UA and certain other agencies, and if they agreed to pass some of the governor’s deficit reduction bills. A deal couldn’t be completed before midnight.

When the special session convenes, the House and Senate will most likely take up new versions of the operating and capital budgets that are identical to the versions that died yesterday. That way, they don’t have to start from scratch. As you will recall, the House operating budget contained a $50 million dollar cut for the university from the current year’s budget, while the Senate budget proposed a $25 million cut. The conference committee that was reconciling the differences between the two budgets had tentatively decided to adopt the larger House cut. That’s why the House Minority was demanding more money for UA in exchange for its CBR vote.

The Senate capital budget contained no money for the university, but the last version of the House capital budget contained $5 million for deferred maintenance. One other item in the House capital budget also involves the university, but it doesn’t have any actual fiscal impact on UA. The House bill reappropriated $18.8 million of road construction money that was originally given to the Municipality of Anchorage several years ago to design and build an extension of Elmore Road in the U-Med district. The House bill provided that UA, instead of the municipality, should manage the project and use the money to have the road extension designed and built. The Department of Transportation and Public Facilities will handle the actual design and construction of the road extension and assume responsibility for the road and right of way once the project is complete.

Legislators are tired and frustrated, and they have a difficult job to do. The operating budget is the one thing that the constitution requires the legislature to pass each session; all the other bills are optional. The operating budget needs to be finalized in time for the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, or there won’t be any money to run state government. The majorities would like to pass the budget now, and then work on the other bills. However, because funding the operating budget with the CBR is the only real leverage that the House Minority has, it wants to see the other bills actually pass before it votes on the operating budget. The special session may last the full 30 days, and there may be more special sessions later in the year, depending on the results of this one.

One additional note: when the session ended yesterday, SB 174, relating to weapons on campus, died in the House Finance Committee. It is likely to be reintroduced next January.

Thank you for all your work to promote and support the University of Alaska!

---

For more information, contact Associate Vice President Chris Christensen at
cschristenseniii@alaska.edu or visit www.alaska.edu/state.

_______________________________________________

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The Capitol Report - May 16, 2016

May 16, 2016
The Capitol Report  

By Chris Christensen
Associate Vice President for State Relations

* OPPORTUNITY FOR PUBLIC TESTIMONY TODAY AT 6:00 P.M. - INFORMATION BELOW *

Today is the 119th day of the legislative session. We are well past the 90-day session limit imposed by the voters in 2006, and approaching the 121-day limit mandated by the Alaska Constitution. The legislature can continue the regular session past Wednesday only if two-thirds of the House and two-thirds of the Senate vote for an extension, and any extension cannot exceed ten days. If the legislature is unable to finish its work by the end of the regular session, it can call itself into special session or be called into special session by the governor. Special sessions are up to 30 days in length and are limited to specific topics, but there is no limit on the number of special sessions that can be called.

The legislature is still working to enact operating and capital budgets. It is also still debating elements of Governor Walker’s proposal to reduce the size of the budget deficit. That proposal would impose new taxes, increase certain existing taxes, reduce oil tax credits, reduce the size of the Permanent Fund Dividend, and change the way that state revenues are accounted for.

We are seeing indications that the legislature may try to enact operating and capital budgets in the next 10 days, but nothing is certain.

Capital Budget

The Senate finally passed a capital budget several days ago, and the House Finance Committee will take limited public testimony on that budget tonight from 6:00 - 8:00 p.m. As reported last month, the governor’s capital budget proposal for FY17 was very small and contained only $188 million in general funds for capital projects. Ten million dollars of that total was for the university to spend on deferred maintenance. The Senate’s capital budget significantly reduces the governor’s proposal. The Senate wants to spend only $155 million in general funds, and it removed the university’s deferred maintenance funding. We had hoped that the Senate would leave the deferred maintenance funding intact and add some funding to continue work on the UAF engineering building, but that didn’t happen.

The House could add back the $10 million requested by the governor for deferred maintenance, and while it is unlikely at this point, it could add some money for UAF engineering. If you are interested in providing the House Finance Committee with testimony or written comments on the capital budget, here is the information posted by the committee:

  • Public testimony is limited to two minutes.
  • Please arrive 30 minutes prior to the end of the allotted time period or testimony will close early

Public testimony will be taken by teleconference at local Legislative Information Offices. You can find the location of your local Legislative Information Office at this link: http://akleg.gov/lios.php

Alternatively, you can send written testimony to the House Finance Committee at this address: house.financelegislation@akleg.gov . If you prefer to contact members of the committee individually, you can find email addresses and phone numbers at the following links:

Representative Steve Thompson, Co-Chair, (R) Fairbanks
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=thp

Representative Mark Neuman, Co-Chair, (R) Big Lake
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=neu

Representative Dan Saddler, Vice-Chair, (R) Eagle River
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=sad

Representative Bryce Edgmon, (D) Dillingham
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=edg

Representative Lynn Gattis, (R) Wasilla
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=gat

Representative Cathy Munoz, (R) Juneau
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=mun

Representative Lance Pruitt, (R) Anchorage
http://new.akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=PRU

Representative Tammie Wilson, (R) North Pole
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=wlt

Representative Les Gara, (D) Anchorage (minority member)
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=gar

Representative David Guttenberg, (D) Fairbanks (minority member)
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=gtt

Representative Scott Kawasaki, (D) Fairbanks (minority member)
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=kaw

Operating Budget

The conference committee for the operating budget is still working to reconcile the House version and the Senate version of the operating budget. It has six members: House Finance Committee Co-chairs Mark Neuman and Steve Thompson; House Finance minority member Les Gara; Senate Finance Committee Co-chairs Pete Kelly and Anna MacKinnon; and Senate Finance majority member Lyman Hoffman.

As you will recall, the House proposed a $50 million dollar cut from the current year’s budget, while the Senate proposed a $25 million cut. Unfortunately, last month the conferees voted 5-1 to tentatively adopt the larger House cut.

One of the things that will affect the final budget is the need to access savings to fund the deficit. The $4.1 billion deficit in FY16 exists because state spending exceeds revenues by that amount. In order to cover next year’s projected deficit, the legislature needs to take money out of a savings account. There are two accounts available: the Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR), and the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve (PFER).

To access the CBR, the House and Senate each need a three-quarters vote. The Senate majority is large enough to provide a three-quarters vote in that chamber. However, the House majority is less than three-quarters of that body; in order to get enough votes, the House majority needs votes from the House minority. This means that the House minority gets a say in the final budget. The same situation existed last year, and in exchange for the minority providing the needed votes, the majority agreed to add more money to the operating budget, including more money for the university. House minority legislators have said that they would make the university budget one of their priorities in negotiations with the majority.

There is another way to fund the deficit that doesn’t require a three-quarters vote. The legislature can withdraw money from the PFER with a simple majority vote, and if it does that, it doesn’t need to add money back to the UA budget to obtain the votes of minority members. Many legislators see political peril in accessing the PFER because that is the account used to pay Permanent Fund Dividends, and they would prefer to take money from the CBR. It is not clear at this time if negotiations to access the CBR will be successful, or if the PFER will be used. We should find out in the next week.

Thank you for all your work to promote and support the University of Alaska!

---

For more information, contact Associate Vice President Chris Christensen at
cschristenseniii@alaska.edu or visit www.alaska.edu/state.

_______________________________________________

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The Capitol Report - April 15, 2016

April 15, 2016
The Capitol Report  

By Chris Christensen
Associate Vice President for State Relations

Today is the 88th day of the legislative session. We finally have news on the operating and capital budgets, and it is not good.

Operating Budget

The conference committee for the operating budget finally began its work yesterday, much later than normal. This committee is charged with reconciling the House version and the Senate version of the operating budget. It has six members: House Finance Committee Co-chairs Mark Neuman and Steve Thompson; House Finance minority member Les Gara; Senate Finance Committee co-chairs Pete Kelly and Anna MacKinnon; and Senate Finance member Lyman Hoffman.

As you will recall, the House proposed a $50 million dollar cut from the current year’s budget, while the Senate proposed a $25 million cut. Unfortunately, the conferees voted 5-1 to adopt the larger House cut. Representative Les Gara was the no vote.

While the session is scheduled to end on Sunday, there is no expectation that the legislature can actually complete all the things it is working on by then. It is assumed that the session will extend for a period of time, and then we will have a special session. Last year, the budget wasn’t actually finalized until late May. One of the things that will affect the final budget is the need to get a three-quarters vote of the House and the Senate to access savings in the Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR). The $4.1 billion deficit in FY16 exists because state spending exceeds revenues by that amount. In order to cover next year’s projected deficit, the legislature needs to take money out of the CBR, and the constitution says that it needs a supermajority to do that. The Senate majority is large enough to provide a three-quarters vote in that chamber. However, the House majority is less than three-quarters of that body; in order to get enough votes, the House majority needs votes from the House minority. This means that the House minority gets a say in the final budget. The same situation existed last year, and in exchange for the minority providing the needed votes, the majority agreed to add more money to the operating budget, including more money for the university. Following yesterday’s vote in conference committee, House minority legislators said that they would make the university budget one of their priorities in negotiations with the majority.

The conference committee’s action is bad news, but things aren’t over yet.

Capital Budget

The governor’s capital budget proposal for FY17 was very small, and contained only $188 million in general funds for capital projects. $10 million of that total was for the university, to spend on deferred maintenance. The Senate Finance Committee has finally released a draft capital budget, and it dramatically reduces the governor’s proposal. The Senate wants to spend only about $150 million in general funds, and the university’s funding was removed. The rationale for removing the funding was that the university still has unspent funds from previous budget years available for deferred maintenance. We had also hoped that the Senate would provide some money to continue work on the UAF engineering building, but that didn’t happen. The capital budget will go to the House once the Senate has passed it, but that body is under the same budget pressures and significant additions are unlikely.

Thank you for all your work to promote and support the University of Alaska!

---

For more information, contact Associate Vice President Chris Christensen at cschristenseniii@alaska.edu or visit www.alaska.edu/state.

_______________________________________________

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The Capitol Report - April 14, 2016

April 14, 2016
The Capitol Report  

By Chris Christensen
Associate Vice President for State Relations

Today is the 87th day of the legislative session. Theoretically we have three days left, but we will likely be here past Sunday. This is an update on the status of SB 174, allowing weapons on campus.

The House Judiciary Committee had hearings on SB 174 on Tuesday and Wednesday, and it passed the bill out without any additional amendments. In its current form, the bill allows the university to create restricted access areas limiting weapons during adjudication of staff or student disciplinary issues, and limiting weapons in areas providing services to victims and investigating sexual assault, harassment, or domestic violence. However, weapons are allowed in dormitories and dedicated K-12 areas, persons do not need a permit to carry concealed, and the university cannot restrict weapons possession by persons whose behavior demonstrates a risk of harm to self or others (such as students who have talked about suicide). The committee also zeroed out the university’s fiscal note (this is the fiscal impact statement for bills that agencies are required to provide to legislative committees); this reflected the desire of some to keep the bill out of the House Finance Committee, which is required to hear bills with positive or negative fiscal notes, but not bills with zero fiscal notes.

Notwithstanding the zero fiscal note, the bill is currently in the House Finance Committee. That committee has not yet scheduled a hearing. The committee has two co-chairs; the co-chair who is in charge of bills, and who will make decisions about hearing SB 174 and amendments that are offered, is Representative Steve Thompson of Fairbanks. Representative Thompson is a good friend of the university and has always listened to our concerns. He is also under a good deal of pressure from his colleagues in the House majority caucus, most of whom want this bill to pass the House and become law.

Because we are in the final days and bills get scheduled for hearings with little notice, and because a House Finance Committee hearing on this bill may be held over the weekend, now is the time to contact House Finance members to express your views. If you are from Fairbanks, you should particularly let Representative Thompson know how you feel about the issue. He will want to hear from you. Tomorrow could be too late.

Pending a hearing, you can send written testimony to the House Finance Committee at this address: house.financelegislation@akleg.gov . If you prefer to contact members of the committee individually, you can find email addresses and phone numbers at the following links:

Representative Steve Thompson, Co-Chair, (R) Fairbanks
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=thp

Representative Mark Neuman, Co-Chair, (R) Big Lake
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=neu

Representative Dan Saddler, Vice-Chair, (R) Eagle River
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=sad

Representative Bryce Edgmon, (D) Dillingham
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=edg

Representative Lynn Gattis, (R) Wasilla
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=gat

Representative Cathy Munoz, (R) Juneau
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=mun

Representative Lance Pruitt, (R) Anchorage
http://new.akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=PRU

Representative Tammie Wilson, (R) North Pole
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=wlt

Representative Les Gara, (D) Anchorage (minority member
)http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=gar

Representative David Guttenberg, (D) Fairbanks (minority member)
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=gtt

Representative Scott Kawasaki, (D) Fairbanks (minority member)
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=kaw

The Board of Regents opposes SB 174 in its current form. However, the bill has strong support in the legislature, as demonstrated by the 13-5 vote in the Senate, and its quick passage through the House Education and House Judiciary Committees. You will find the Board’s resolution opposing the bill in its current form, and its requested amendments, here: http://www.alaska.edu/files/state/2016-03-25-Regarding-Senate-Bill-174.pdf . You will find a legal analysis of the current version of the bill here: http://www.alaska.edu/files/state/2016.04.11-SB-174-memo-to-House-Judiciary-signed.pdf

Additional information about the bill can be found at the university’s State Relations website: http://www.alaska.edu/state/advocacy/ . The legislature’s website also has information about the bill: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Bill/Detail/29?Root=SB%20174 .

If you spend time drafting written testimony or writing an email, you should also copy the House member who represents your district. If you don’t know who that is, you can go to this webpage and enter your home address in the box at the bottom right of the page: http://akleg.gov/index.php

Thank you for all your work to promote and support the University of Alaska!

---
For more information, contact Associate Vice President Chris Christensen at cschristenseniii@alaska.edu or visit www.alaska.edu/state.
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The Capitol Report - April 12, 2016

April 12, 2016
The Capitol Report  

By Chris Christensen
Associate Vice President for State Relations

SB 174 Update

SB 174, allowing weapons on campus, was passed out of the House Education Committee yesterday by a vote of 4-3. The committee made no amendments to the bill.

As reported last Friday, the bill will be heard this afternoon from 1:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. in the House Judiciary Committee. We wanted to let advocates know that we have posted an updated analysis of the bill online. You may find this useful if you intend to testify or send written comments to the committee today. You can find this analysis at http://www.alaska.edu/files/state/2016.04.11-SB-174-memo-to-House-Judiciary-signed.pdf.

If you want to send written testimony to the House Judiciary Committee, you can do so at this address: kalyssa.maile@akleg.gov . If you prefer to contact members of the committee individually, you can find email addresses and phone numbers at the following links:

Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux
http://new.akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=LEU

Rep. Wes Keller, Vice-Chair
http://new.akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=KEE

Rep. Neal Foster
http://new.akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=FON

Rep. Bob Lynn
http://new.akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=LYN

Rep. Charisse Millett
http://new.akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=MIL

Rep. Matt Claman
http://new.akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=CLA

Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins
http://new.akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=KRE

Again, if you spend time drafting written testimony or writing an email, you should also copy the House member who represents your district. If you don’t know who that is, you can go to this webpage and enter your home address in the box at the bottom right of the page: http://akleg.gov/index.php

Thank you for all your work to promote and support the University of Alaska!

---
For more information, contact Associate Vice President Chris Christensen at cschristenseniii@alaska.edu or visit www.alaska.edu/state .

_______________________________________________

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The Capitol Report - April 8, 2016 UPDATE

April 8, 2016
The Capitol Report - Update

By Chris Christensen
Associate Vice President for State Relations

A few hours ago, we sent out a Capitol Report with an update on SB 174, relating to weapons on campus. We wanted to let the UA community know that the Senate has passed the bill, and the House Education Committee will be hearing it on Monday morning from 8:00-10:00.

It’s the last week of session, things are moving quickly, and the House Judiciary Committee has now also scheduled the bill for a hearing. House Judiciary will meet on Tuesday, April 12, from 1:00-3:00 p.m. If you plan to send written testimony or an email to the Education Committee, please also send a copy to the Judiciary Committee and its members.

If you want to send written testimony to the House Judiciary Committee, you can do so at this address: kalyssa.maile@akleg.gov . If you prefer to contact members of the committee individually, you can find email addresses and phone numbers at the following links:

Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux
http://new.akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=LEU

Rep. Wes Keller, Vice-Chair
http://new.akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=KEE

Rep. Neal Foster
http://new.akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=FON

Rep. Bob Lynn
http://new.akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=LYN

Rep. Charisse Millett
http://new.akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=MIL

Rep. Matt Claman
http://new.akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=CLA

Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins
http://new.akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=KRE

Again, if you spend time drafting written testimony or writing an email, you should also copy the House member who represents your district. If you don’t know who that is, you can go to this webpage and enter your home address in the box at the bottom right of the page: http://akleg.gov/index.php

Thank you for all your work to promote and support the University of Alaska!

---
For more information, contact Associate Vice President Chris Christensen at cschristenseniii@alaska.edu or visit www.alaska.edu/state .

_______________________________________________

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The Capitol Report - April 8, 2016

April 8, 2016
The Capitol Report

By Chris Christensen
Associate Vice President for State Relations

Today is the 81st day of the legislative session. The legislature is now meeting on weekends and is operating under the 24-hour rule. This means that instead of five days’ notice of committee meetings, a bill can be heard if public notice is provided the day before the scheduled hearing.

SB 174 – Weapons on Campus
The Senate passed SB 174 yesterday by a vote of 13 – 5. The vote broke down as follows:

Yea: Coghill, Costello, Dunleavy, Giessel, Huggins, Kelly, MacKinnon, McGuire, Meyer, Micciche, Stedman, Stoltze, Wielechowski
Nay: Bishop, Egan, Gardner, Hoffman, Stevens
Excused: Ellis
Absent: Olson

As previously noted, the bill has been put on a fast track. It has been assigned to the House Education Committee and then to the House Judiciary Committee for hearings. The Education Committee has already scheduled a hearing for Monday morning from 8:00-10:00 a.m. If you would like to testify, you can do so at your local Legislative Information Office (locations here: http://akleg.gov/lios.php )

If you want to send written testimony to the House Education Committee, you can do so at this address: janet.ogan@akleg.gov . If you prefer to contact members of the committee individually, you can find email addresses and phone numbers at the following links:

Rep. Wes Keller, Chair
http://www.akleg.gov/basis/get_mbr_info.asp?member=KEE&house=H&session=29

Rep. Liz Vasquez, Vice-Chair
http://www.akleg.gov/basis/get_mbr_info.asp?member=VAQ&house=H&session=29

Rep. Jim Colver
http://www.akleg.gov/basis/get_mbr_info.asp?member=COV&house=H&session=29

Rep. Paul Seaton
http://www.akleg.gov/basis/get_mbr_info.asp?member=SAN&house=H&session=29

Rep. David Talerico
http://www.akleg.gov/basis/get_mbr_info.asp?member=TAL&house=H&session=29

Rep. Harriet Drummond
http://www.akleg.gov/basis/get_mbr_info.asp?member=DRU&house=H&session=29

Rep. Ivy Spohnholz
http://www.akleg.gov/basis/get_mbr_info.asp?member=SPN&house=H&session=29

The Board of Regents opposes SB 174 in its current form, but as the 13-5 vote in the Senate demonstrates, the bill has strong support in the legislature. You will find the Board’s resolution opposing the bill in its current form, and its requested amendments, here: http://www.alaska.edu/files/state/2016-03-25-Regarding-Senate-Bill-174.pdf . You will find a very short legal analysis of the current version of the bill here: http://www.alaska.edu/files/state/Firearms-Analysis.pdf

Additional information about the bill can be found at the university’s State Relations website: http://www.alaska.edu/state/advocacy/ . The legislature’s website also has information about the bill: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Bill/Detail/29?Root=SB%20174

If you spend time drafting written testimony or writing an email, you should also copy the House member who represents your district. If you don’t know who that is, you can go to this webpage and enter your home address in the box at the bottom right of the page: http://akleg.gov/index.php

We’ll have more information after the hearing on Monday, and provide contact information for members of the House Judiciary Committee.

Thank you for all your work to promote and support the University of Alaska!

--
For more information, contact Associate Vice President Chris Christensen at cschristenseniii@alaska.edu or visit www.alaska.edu/state .
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Capitol Report April 5, 2016

April 5, 2016
The Capitol Report

By Chris Christensen
Associate Vice President for State Relations

Today is the 78th day of the legislative session. We have less than two weeks until the scheduled end of session on April 17.

Capital Budget

The Senate Finance Committee will be taking a limited amount of public testimony on the capital budget tomorrow, April 6, from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. This may be the only opportunity for public advocacy on the capital budget and for senators to hear about the need for the university’s projects.

Governor Walker submitted a $185 million capital budget to the legislature that included $10 million for UA deferred maintenance. Unfortunately, he did not include money for UAF’s Engineering Learning and Innovation Facility (ELIF); the Board of Regents had requested $34.8 million for its completion. This building is shelled in but unusable because it has an unfinished interior. You can find more information on the project here: http://www.alaska.edu/files/state/FY2017-UAF-Engineering-FinalReview.pdf

$185 million in unrestricted general funds is a very small capital budget by historic standards, and the Senate is not likely to increase it much because of the budget deficit. Most of the money in the governor’s capital budget is for projects that have a large federal match (some construction projects will bring in up to $10 from the federal government for every dollar spent by the state), and ELIF doesn’t bring in any federal matching money. We hope, however, that if $34.8 million is too much to add in this fiscal environment, a smaller amount can be provided that will finish some classroom or laboratory space in the new building, and allow us to put it to use.

Here is the information posted by the committee:

  • Public testimony is limited to two minutes.
  • Please arrive 15 minutes prior to the end of the allotted time period or testimony will close early
  • If you are a member of a group with the same message, in the interest of time, please select a spokesperson to testify for the entire group.

You can find the location of your local Legislative Information Office at this link: http://akleg.gov/lios.php

If you are unable to testify, you have two options: First, you can send written testimony to the entire Senate Finance Committee at this email address: finance.committee@akleg.gov . Second, you can send email to individual members of the committee using the links listed below. In either case, let them know what you would have said if you had been at the hearing. Be sure to thank them. Here is a list of committee members and links to their email addresses:

Senator Pete Kelly, Co-chair (R-Fairbanks)
http://new.akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=KEP

Senator Anna MacKinnon, Co-chair (R-Eagle River)
http://new.akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=MAI

Senator Peter Micciche, Vice-chair (R-Soldotna)
http://new.akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=MHE

Senator Click Bishop (R-Fairbanks)
http://new.akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=BIS

Senator Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla)
http://new.akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=DNL

Senator Lyman Hoffman (D-Bethel)
http://new.akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=HOF

Senator Donny Olson (D-Golovin)
http://new.akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=ols

The committee will probably pass out a capital budget next week and send it to the Senate floor. The House Finance Committee will take it up when it passes the Senate.

SB 174 – Weapons on Campus

The Senate Finance Committee passed SB 174 out of committee on Monday, and it is expected on the Senate floor in the near future. The Board of Regents opposes SB 174 in its current form, but recognizes that the bill has strong support in the legislature. The BOR believes that amendments are required to permit continued regulation in six areas, to allow critical and timely responses by the university:

  1. When a student’s or employee’s behavior indicates a risk of harm to self or others;
  2. In student dormitories or other shared student living quarters;
  3. In health and counseling, discrimination, harassment, and Title IX offices;
  4. During adjudication of staff or student disputes or disciplinary issues;
  5. In K-12 programs; and,
  6. Requiring a concealed carry permit to carry concealed weapons on campus.

The first committee to consider the bill, Senate Education, made amendments that allowed university regulation in areas 1 through 4. We were hopeful that Senate Finance would amend the bill to also cover areas 5 and 6. Instead, the committee did the opposite, and removed or limited the scope of the previous amendments. For example, the bill now allows concealed handguns in dormitories. The committee also declined to provide funds for the university’s estimated costs in implementing the bill. You can review the new version and a summary of changes here: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/get_documents.asp?session=29&bill=SB174

Thank you for all your work to promote and support the University of Alaska!

---
For more information, contact Associate Vice President Chris Christensen at cschristenseniii@alaska.edu or visit www.alaska.edu/state .
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The Capitol Report April 1, 2016

April 1, 2016
The Capitol Report

By Chris Christensen
Associate Vice President for State Relations

Today is the 74th day of the legislative session. While adjournment is scheduled for April 17, people in Juneau are assuming that the regular session will be extended, and following the extension there will probably be a special session. Legislators don’t like special sessions during election years, because they can’t campaign when they are away from their home districts, and the law prohibits them (but not their opponents) from raising campaign contributions.

Operating Budget
The legislature is still delaying the appointment of a conference committee to resolve the differences between the House and Senate operating budgets. In the meantime, the Senate has introduced new bills that will reduce the deficit by shifting costs from the state to school districts, municipalities, students, and the university (see below).

Capital Budget
The Senate Finance Committee will have a hearing on the capital budget (SB 138) next Wednesday from 9:00-11:00 a.m. Like last year, the governor’s proposed capital budget is very small and primarily contains projects for which there are federal matching dollars. The university has only $10 million for deferred maintenance in the proposal.

Bills
The Senate Finance Committee has sponsored three bills that affect the university and its students; they were introduced last Monday, had a brief hearing on Wednesday, and may be heard again next week. Because these bills are part of the Senate majority’s budget plan, they are expected to pass.

SB 207 increases the contribution rate that employers must pay for the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) from 12.56% of employee salaries to 19% in FY17, to 20% in FY18, to 21% in FY19, and finally to 22% in FY20. This is estimated to cost UA an additional $2.45 million the first year, and will cost $2.83 million in FY18, $3.21 million in FY19, and $3.59 million in FY20 and subsequent years. The bill proposes to give some money to school districts to mitigate the increase, but it does not propose giving any to the university. More information here: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Bill/Detail/29?Root=SB%20207

SB 208 winds down the Alaska Performance Scholarship and the Alaska Education Grant Program over the next six years, eliminating them by 2022. This year’s high school seniors will be the last allowed to apply, and no applicant will be allowed to extend past the six year sunset date. The money saved will be used in part to help school districts pay for the increased TRS costs under SB 207. More information here: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Bill/Detail/29?Root=SB%20208

SB 209 increases the contribution rate that employers must pay for the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) from 22% of employee salaries to 24.5% in FY17, to 25.5% in FY18, and to 26.5% in FY19. This is estimated to cost UA an additional $3.25 million the first year, and will cost $4.55 million in FY18, and $5.85 million in FY19 and subsequent years. More information here: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Bill/Detail/29?Root=SB%20209

The House Education Committee held two hearings on HB 357 by Rep. Liz Vasquez, "An Act relating to the Board of Education and Early Development; and relating to the Board of Regents of the University of Alaska." This bill would put two new non-voting members on the Board of Regents and on the DEED Board. A senator would be appointed by the Senate President, and a representative would be appointed by the House Speaker. It is arguably unconstitutional to have legislators serve on these boards, and after much debate, the committee rejected the bill. More information here: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Bill/Detail/29?Root=HB%20357

Thank you for all your work to promote and support the University of Alaska!

---
For more information, contact Associate Vice President Chris Christensen at cschristenseniii@alaska.edu or visit www.alaska.edu/state .
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The Capitol Report March 18, 2016

March 18, 2016
The Capitol Report

 By Chris Christensen
Associate Vice President for State Relations

Today is the 60th day of the legislative session. We are now two-thirds of the way through the process, with adjournment scheduled on April 17.

Operating Budget

As reported last week, the House has passed a university operating budget of $300 million in state funds for FY17. This is $50.8 million less than the budget UA received in FY16, and signifies a 14.5 percent reduction in state support.

On Monday, the Senate passed its version of the operating budget. The Senate’s budget for the university is $324.9 million in state funds, or $25.9 million less than the budget UA received in FY16. This is a 7.4 percent reduction in state support. Senator Berta Gardner offered a floor amendment to add $10 million back to UA’s budget, to provide a budget equal to the governor’s proposal. It failed on a vote of 4-16.

Once the House and Senate have passed their respective versions of the budget, generally a conference committee is quickly appointed to work out a compromise between the two budgets. Yesterday, however, it was announced that the conference committee will not be appointed right away, so that the legislature can focus instead on revenue-generating proposals.

When finally appointed, the conference committee will have three members from the House and three members from the Senate; it always includes the two Finance Committee co-chairs from each body. The final budget could be the House number, the Senate number, or something in between. It is difficult to predict what the actual final reduction might be this session, because the Senate budget also contains a $100 million cut that has not been allocated to a specific agency; if adopted by the conference committee, the governor would have to decide how much of this additional cut would be assigned to each agency. That decision wouldn’t be made until weeks or months after the end of session.

SB 174 – Regulation of Firearms and Knives by the Board of Regents

The Senate Finance Committee has scheduled a Thursday, March 24 hearing on SB 174, "An Act relating to the regulation of firearms and knives by the University of Alaska." The hearing will be from 1:30 – 4:00 p.m., and will be teleconferenced to local Legislative Information Offices. The block of time from 2:30 – 4:00 p.m. has been set aside for public testimony. People who testify will be limited to three minutes. The university has information on its position here: http://www.alaska.edu/state/advocacy/ The legislature has more information on the bill here: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Bill/Detail/29?Root=SB%20174

Thank you for all your work to promote and support the University of Alaska!

---

For more information, contact Associate Vice President Chris Christensen at cschristenseniii@alaska.edu or visit www.alaska.edu/state .

_______________________________________________

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Capitol Report March 11, 2016

March 11, 2016
The Capitol Report

 By Chris Christensen
Associate Vice President for State Relations

Today is the 53rd day of the legislative session. This week, the House passed its version of the operating budget, and the Senate will be in session this weekend to work on its version.

House Budget

The House Finance Committee started considering amendments to the operating budget at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday. With only a few short breaks, it worked until 12:48 a.m. on Wednesday. As you probably recall, the university’s House Budget Subcommittee recommended a budget of $300 million in unrestricted general funds (UGF) for FY17. This is $50.8 million UGF less than the budget UA received in FY16, and signifies a 14.5 percent reduction in state support.

Unfortunately, the House Finance Committee accepted the subcommittee’s recommendation and adopted the $50.8 million cut. An amendment to add $25 million back to the budget was made by Rep. Steve Thompson, the co-chair of the committee. After a long debate, Rep. Thompson withdrew the amendment and the committee didn’t vote on it. Rep. Thompson’s explanation was that the Senate budget contained the same amount for UA as his proposal, so the conference committee would have that number in front of it when it worked to reconcile the House and Senate budgets.

The full House took up the operating budget yesterday. Rep. Adam Wool offered an amendment co-sponsored by all the members of the House minority that would have added $50.8 million back to the budget, giving UA the same level of state support that it received this year. After 90 minutes of debate, the House rejected the amendment by a vote of 13-24.

Senate Budget

The Senate Finance Committee is expected to finish its work on the operating budget later today. The university’s Senate Budget Subcommittee had recommended a cut of $25 million UGF from the FY16 level, and the Finance Committee has tentatively accepted that proposal. It made one change: it reduced the budget of the Mat-Su College by $116,500. This money will be transferred to the Mat-Su Borough School District (MSBSD) to pay the costs of transporting high school juniors and seniors from the Mat-Su Valley to the Alaska Middle College School (AMCS) on the Chugiak-Eagle River Campus. AMCS is a MSBSD high school where students are simultaneously enrolled in both high school and college courses. Legislators have heard complaints that UAA should locate AMCS at the Mat-Su College, rather than the Chugiak-Eagle River Campus, to save travel time and expenses.

The Senate is going to take up the operating budget on Saturday afternoon, and then pass the bill on Monday. Once the House and Senate have passed their respective versions of the budget, a conference committee will be appointed to work out a compromise between the House and Senate budget numbers. Because the Senate will pass its version of the budget almost three weeks earlier than normal, it is possible that the conference committee will not be appointed right away.

Other Bills

The Senate Judiciary Committee had its third hearing on SB 174, "An Act relating to the regulation of firearms and knives by the University of Alaska." The committee passed the bill out without any changes to the Senate Education Committee version. The bill is now in the Senate Finance Committee, and has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

Thank you for all your work to promote and support the University of Alaska!

---

For more information, contact Associate Vice President Chris Christensen at cschristenseniii@alaska.edu or visit www.alaska.edu/state.

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Capitol Report March 4, 2016

March 4, 2016
The Capitol Report

 By Chris Christensen
Associate Vice President for State Relations

Today is the 46th day of the legislative session, and we have theoretically passed the midpoint if there are no extensions or special sessions. There is one last opportunity to testify on the operating budget, this time before the Senate Finance Committee; dates and information are underlined.

House Budget

The full House Finance Committee spent three days this week taking public testimony on the operating budget. Hundreds of people from around the state testified, and a large percentage spoke on behalf of the university. I was stopped in the halls several times this week by legislators and lobbyists who commented on the UA turnout. If you sent in an email, made a phone call or patiently waited your turn to speak for two minutes at the hearings, thank you! Your help is indispensable and it makes a difference.

The House Finance Committee is scheduled to finalize its budget on Monday and Tuesday. There are committee members who believe that the $50 million cut recommended by the House Budget Subcommittee is too large, and would like to have money added back. There are other members who think that the cut is the right size, and are opposed to changing it. On Monday, we will see the budget amendments that are being offered by committee members, and the public debate will start. We will send out an update when we have new information.

Senate Budget

This morning, the university’s Senate Budget Subcommittee met and finalized its operating budget recommendation. Subcommittee Chair Pete Kelly proposed to his members that UA receive a $25 million reduction from FY16. This is a $10 million cut from what was proposed by Governor Walker, but only one-half the size of the cut being considered by the House. While large, it is certainly more manageable than the House number.

As noted last week, the Senate is attempting to finish its budget work about three weeks ahead of schedule. This week, the House Finance Committee took its public testimony. Next week, the Senate Finance Committee will be taking public testimony.

To repeat what was said in last week’s Capitol Report: you will have only two minutes to convey your message. You will be asked to identify yourself, including your name, affiliation and legislative district. The latter gets your legislator’s attention if he or she is at the table. You should thank them for their past support of the university.

Legislators are not so much interested in the financial details of the budget request as they are in hearing your story. Tell them why UA is important to you or why it is important to the state. Talk about personal experiences that demonstrate the value of a program. Tell them about your future plans and how the university will help you accomplish them. Let them know why you think a budget closer to the governor’s number is in the best interest of the state.

If you feel comfortable talking more about this, feel free to mention the improvements we’ve seen in metrics measuring student attainment and achievement; the federal research dollars we are attracting; the national and international recognition and engagement on matters related to the Arctic and its potential; and the partnerships we are forging with existing industries and those looking to expand their presence in Alaska. At the end of your testimony, be sure to thank the legislators for their time and ask for their continued support.

You can find the location of your local Legislative Information Office (LIO) at this link: http://akleg.gov/lios.php. Here is the schedule:

Monday, March 8:
3:45 - 5:30 Juneau

Tuesday, March 8
10:00 - 11:00 Bethel, Nome, Kotzebue, Unalaska
11:15 - 12:00 Barrow, Tok, Delta Junction
1:00 - 2:00 Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg
2:15 - 3:30 Sitka, Cordova, Valdez
3:45 - 5:30 Statewide Teleconference - Offnet sites

Wednesday, March 9
9:00 – 10:45 Anchorage
1:00 – 1:45 Glennallen, Seward, Homer
3:00 – 4:30 Fairbanks, Mat-Su
4:45 – 5:45 Kenai, Kodiak, Dillingham

  • Please arrive 15 minutes prior to the end of the allotted time period or testimony will close early.
  • If you are a member of a group with the same message, in the interest of time, please select a spokesperson to testify for the entire group.
  • If you live in a community with a legislative information office, but are unable to access it during the specified time period, you may send your written testimony to the Senate Finance Committee via finance.committee@akleg.gov.

Senate Finance Committee members are listed below. All are members of the majority caucus; the Senate minority is too small to have representation on the Finance Committee. Note that an email link and phone number is on each member’s webpage if you wish to contact one or more of them directly, instead of or in addition to offering testimony at the hearings. The email link in the preceding paragraph can be used to provide written public testimony that will be given to all the members during the meetings.

Senator Pete Kelly, Chair (R-Fairbanks)
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=kep

Senator Anna MacKinnon (R-Eagle River)
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=mai

Senator Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna)
http://new.akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=MHE

Senator Click Bishop (R-Fairbanks)
http://new.akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=BIS

Senator Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla)
http://new.akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=DNL

Senator Lyman Hoffman (D-Bethel)
http://new.akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=HOF

Senator Donny Olsen (D-Golovin)
http://new.akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=OLS

You should also copy the Senate member who represents you, whether or not that person is a member of the Finance Committee, to let them know how you feel. Those members will make their views known to their Finance Committee colleagues during caucuses on the budget. If you don’t know who represents you, go to http://w3.legis.state.ak.us/. At the bottom right of the page is a box labeled “Who Represents Me?” Enter your home address to get the information.

You can find email links for Senate members here: http://akleg.gov/senate.php

Once it is finished with public testimony, the Senate Finance Committee will take the comments it received under consideration and close out the state operating budget on Thursday and Friday. Shortly thereafter, the operating budget will be sent to the full Senate for a vote. The House and Senate plan to pass their respective versions of the budget by March 15.

Other Bills

SB 174, "An Act relating to the regulation of firearms and knives by the University of Alaska," had two hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Comments and questions by committee members suggest that there is strong support on the committee for allowing concealed carry on campus. A third hearing will held on Monday from 1:30 – 3:00 p.m. More information here: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Bill/Detail/29?Root=SB%20174#tab6_4

HB 107, "An Act relating to the composition of the Board of Regents of the University of Alaska," had two hearings and was passed from committee. This bill creates regional seats on the Board of Regents. It passed the House last session by a vote of 26-13. More information here: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Bill/Detail/29?Root=HB%20107

HB 322, "An Act limiting employee compensation for certain officers and employees in the exempt service; and providing for an effective date," had its first hearing in the House State Affairs Committee. The bill caps salaries for most state and university employees at the level of the governor’s salary ($145,000 per year). More information here: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Bill/Detail/29?Root=HB%20322

Thank you for all your work to promote and support the University of Alaska!

---

For more information, contact Associate Vice President Chris Christensen at cschristenseniii@alaska.edu or visit www.alaska.edu/state.

_______________________________________________

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Capitol Report Feb. 26, 2016

February 26, 2016
The Capitol Report

 By Chris Christensen
Associate Vice President for State Relations

Today is the 39th day of the legislative session. This is a longer than usual Capitol Report, but please take the time to read it. It contains important, time-sensitive information and your support is critical. Key events and dates are underlined.

The university’s House Budget Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Tammie Wilson, finished its work on the FY17 operating budget on Wednesday. The result was disappointing, although things might have been worse if our advocates hadn’t gotten involved; some subcommittee members reported receiving more than 500 messages from UA supporters. Advocates will have the opportunity to continue their efforts next week when the full House Finance Committee takes statewide public testimony, and supporters in Anchorage will be able to testify in person at a bipartisan caucus meeting tomorrow. We also have a very brief window to contact members of the university’s Senate Budget Subcommittee. Information on these opportunities is detailed below.

Budget

During the current year, UA received $350.8 million in unrestricted general funds from the legislature. Unrestricted general funds (UGF) are the state moneys that the legislature provides to UA; they do not include other sources of revenue that UA generates on its own, such as tuition, federal grants, or donations.

The governor has proposed a net cut of $15.8 million UGF from the current year, for a budget of $335 million UGF (4.5 percent reduction). Last week, Representative Wilson proposed to her subcommittee that UA receive a cut of $62.8 million UGF, for a budget of $288 million UGF. This would have been a 17.9 percent reduction from the current level of state support. Representative Wilson further suggested that the $288 million should only go to student instruction; she said that if UA wanted to continue to do research or public service, it should fund those out of its own resources.

At Wednesday’s subcommittee meeting, Representative Wilson proposed a somewhat smaller cut: $50.8 million UGF from FY17, for a total budget of $300 million UGF. This is a 14.5 percent reduction in state support from the current year. Other members of the subcommittee had reportedly asked her prior to the meeting to make the cut smaller. Amendments to further reduce the size of the cut were offered by Representative Adam Wool and Representative Andy Josephson, but they were rejected. After debate, the subcommittee adopted the reduction on a 5 - 2 vote. UA President Jim Johnsen was sitting in the front row, prepared to offer comments regarding the impact of this budget number on the university and on the state, but surprisingly, the chair didn’t provide him the opportunity to address the subcommittee.

Representative Wilson noted that the Board of Regents could decide how to allocate the appropriation; it could choose to use some of the money for research and public service, in lieu of student instruction. However, it should be noted that only $12 million was added to the $288 million that the chair had originally said was the appropriate amount to fund student instruction. Research alone will require $28 million in state funds to sustain the existing research facilities, research staff support and research management, as well as some match for grant funds. Currently, this $28 million investment is generating $116 million in research grants, most of which represents federal money being pumped into Alaska’s slowing economy. You can find the university’s briefing sheet on research here: https://www.alaska.edu/files/state/2016-research-finalreview.pdf

The subcommittee report provided the following rationale for the amount: “Through efficiencies and utilizing the intent language’s recommendations, the University of Alaska can absorb the reduction.” The intent language can be found at this link: http://www.legfin.akleg.gov/BudgetReports/LY2016/Operating/HouseSubNumbers/UOA-Narrative.pdf

We have not yet completed a detailed analysis, but reducing the university’s base budget from $350.8 million UGF to $300 million UGF, and failing to provide all the money needed for fixed cost increases like rising salary and benefits, will most likely result in a job loss of 500 to 900 positions system wide. Note that the legislature doesn’t call it a “budget cut” when it doesn't fund all of the fixed cost increases, but regardless of what it’s called, UA has to pay for these new costs by reducing spending elsewhere or by increasing revenue. They have the same practical effect as a cut.

The full House Finance Committee will start the process of considering all agency subcommittee budgets on Monday, February 29. The date of the committee’s final action has not been announced, but it is believed to be the following Monday, March 7. Our job between now and March 7 is to let House members know that we think the subcommittee’s proposal goes too far in one year. We know that the state is in difficult financial circumstances, and we understand the need to reduce the budget. We know that UA will receive cuts this year and probably in subsequent years, and that it will need to reorganize itself in a way that emphasizes its strengths and the needs of Alaskans. We believe that more gradual cuts over several years, as proposed by the governor, will enable us to continue contributing in a meaningful way to what will help lead the state out of its current fiscal situation. UA cannot absorb a cut of this magnitude in a single year without the risk of serious, long-term impairment of the system and of Alaska’s economy.

There are two effective things that you can do in the next week regarding the House budget:

1) Testify during the public hearings; and
2) Contact House members via email or telephone.

There is also an in-person opportunity this weekend for advocates who live in Anchorage to talk to legislators.
Opinions also must be expressed this weekend to members of the Senate Budget Subcommittee.

First, the Anchorage opportunity: all Republican and Democrat lawmakers who represent districts in the Anchorage area belong to the Anchorage Caucus. Caucus members will take public testimony tomorrow, February 27, from 11:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. The meeting will be held in the Assembly Chambers at the Loussac Library. You will probably be given only two minutes to make your case for the university, depending on the number of people who turn out.

Second, the House Finance Committee is going to take statewide public testimony on the operating budget at local Legislative Information Offices on Monday, February 29; Tuesday, March 1; Wednesday, March 2; and Thursday, March 3 (see below for times). This is the annual opportunity for advocates to have their voices heard. There have been years when more UA advocates offered testimony than did advocates for any other entity or program. This is the year that we need that kind of turnout.

You will have only two minutes to convey your message. You will be asked to identify yourself, including your name, affiliation, and legislative district. The latter gets your legislator’s attention if he or she is at the table. You should thank them for their past support of the university.

Legislators are not so much interested in the financial details of the budget request as they are to hear your story. Tell them why UA is important to you or why it is important to the state. Talk about personal experiences that demonstrate the value of a program. Tell them what your future plans are and how the university will help you accomplish them. Let them know why you think a budget closer to the governor’s number is in the best interest of the state.

If you feel comfortable talking more about this, feel free to mention the improvements we’ve seen in metrics measuring student attainment and achievement; the federal research dollars we are attracting; the national and international recognition and engagement on matters related to the Arctic and its potential; and the partnerships we are forging with existing industries and those looking to expand their presence in Alaska. At the end of your testimony, be sure to thank the legislators for their time and ask for their continued support.

You can find the location of your local Legislative Information Office (LIO) at this link: http://akleg.gov/lios.php . Here is the schedule:

Monday, February 29
4:00 – 6:00 p.m. Juneau

Tuesday, March 1
1:00 - 3:30 p.m. Homer, Kenai, Ketchikan, Kodiak, Mat-Su & Seward
3:45 - 6:00 p.m. Barrow, Dillingham & Fairbanks
6:15 - 7:30 p.m. Off Net sites

Wednesday, March 2
1:00 - 4:30 p.m. Anchorage
4:45 - 6:45 p.m. Sitka, Petersburg, Delta Junction, Unalaska, Glennallen & Tok
7:00 - 8:00 p.m. Off Net sites

Thursday, March 3
1:00 - 4:00 p.m. Bethel, Cordova, Kotzebue, Nome, Valdez & Wrangell
4:15 - 6:00 p.m. Off Net sites

Testimony Instructions:
   - Please arrive 15 min. early for sign-in process
   - Please arrive 15 min. prior to end of allotted time or testimony will close early
   - Select a spokesperson if you are part of a group with the same message
   - "Off Net" callers (communities with no LIO): call only during designated time slot, March 1st, 2nd, or 3rd
   - "Off Net" callers hang up immediately after testifying to keep lines open
   - Continue to access meeting through akleg.gov  
   - If unable to testify during times allotted, please send written testimony to: lhscfin@akleg.gov
   - Please call 465-4648 by 5:00 p.m. Mon. - Thurs. to obtain call-in phone number

House Finance Committee members and alternate members are listed below. Note that an email link and phone number is on each member’s webpage, if you wish to contact one or more of them directly, instead of or in addition to offering testimony at the hearings. The email link in the preceding paragraph ( lhscfin@akleg.gov ) can be used to provide written public testimony that will be given to all the members during the meetings.

Representative Mark Neuman, Co-Chair, (R) Big Lake
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=neu

Representative Steve Thompson, Co-Chair, (R) Fairbanks
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=thp

Representative Dan Saddler, Vice-Chair, (R) Eagle River
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=sad

Representative Bryce Edgmon, (D) Dillingham
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=edg

Represenative Lynn Gattis, (R) Wasilla
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=gat

Representative Cathy Munoz, (R) Juneau
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=mun

Representative Lance Pruitt, (R) Anchorage
http://new.akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=PRU

Representative Tammie Wilson, (R) North Pole
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=wlt

Representative Les Gara, (D) Anchorage (minority member)
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=gar

Representative David Guttenberg, (D) Fairbanks (minority member)
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=gtt

Representative Scott Kawasaki, (D) Fairbanks (minority member)
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=kaw

Representative Mike Hawker, (R) Anchorage (alternate member)
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=haw

You should also contact the House member who represents you, whether or not that person is a member of the Finance Committee, and let them know how you feel. Those members will make their views known to their Finance Committee colleagues during caucuses on the budget. If you don’t know who represents you, go to http://w3.legis.state.ak.us/ . At the bottom right of the page is a box labeled “Who Represents Me?” Enter your home address to get the information.

You can find email links for House members here: http://akleg.gov/house.php

Once it is finished with public testimony, the House Finance Committee will take the comments it received under consideration and close out the state operating budget on or about March 7. Shortly thereafter, the operating budget will be sent to the full House for a vote.

Senate Budget Subcommittee

Finally, the Senate Budget Subcommittee: In a normal year, we would start doing this all over again in the Senate once the House budget had passed. This year, however, the Senate is trying to complete its budget work three weeks ahead of schedule. We had our first Senate Budget Subcommittee meeting last Wednesday, and the subcommittee has announced that it is going to close out our budget on Monday, February 29 at 8:30 a.m. This accelerated schedule only gives us a few days to send comments to subcommittee members. Remember, if the House cuts are severe, the only way to change the outcome is for the Senate to pass a budget with a smaller reduction that can be reconciled in conference committee. Don’t ignore the Senate Subcommittee by focusing exclusively on the House. You can contact Senate Subcommittee members as follows:

Senator Pete Kelly, Chair (R-Fairbanks; Senate Majority)
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=kep

Senator Anna MacKinnon (R-Eagle River; Senate Majority)
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=mai

Senator Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak; Senate Majority)
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=stg

Senator Johnny Ellis (D-Anchorage; Senate Minority)
http://akleg.gov/legislator.php?id=ell

Other Bills

SB 174, "An Act relating to the regulation of firearms and knives by the University of Alaska," passed out of the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday. The committee made four of the six amendments requested by the university. Under the latest version, the Board of Regents would be allowed to regulate the possession of concealed weapons when the behavior of a student or employee demonstrates a risk of harm to self or others; in dorms; in facilities where services for health, counseling, or sexual harassment or violence are provided; and in facilities during disciplinary proceedings. Unfortunately, the latest version still allows weapons in facilities used for K-12 programs, and it still allows persons to carry concealed weapons without a permit. The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing on the bill on Monday, February 29 from 1:30 – 3:30 p.m. More information here: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Bill/Detail/29?Root=SB%20174#tab6_4

HB 107, "An Act relating to the composition of the Board of Regents of the University of Alaska," will have a hearing in the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, March 1 from 3:30 – 5:00 p.m. This bill creates regional seats on the Board of Regents. It passed the House last session by a vote of 26-13. More information here: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Bill/Detail/29?Root=HB%20107

On Wednesday, Representative Liz Vasquez introduced HB 357, "An Act relating to the Board of Education and Early Development; and relating to the Board of Regents of the University of Alaska." This bill adds two non-voting members to the Board of Regents: one senator appointed by the President of the Senate, and one representative appointed by the Speaker of the House. This may conflict with the Alaska Constitution, which provides that regents shall be appointed by the governor. More information here: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/get_bill.asp?session=29&bill=HB357

Thank you for all your work to promote and support the University of Alaska!

---
For more information, contact Associate Vice President Chris Christensen at cschristenseniii@alaska.edu or visit www.alaska.edu/state.

_______________________________________________

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Capitol Report Feb. 22, 2016

February 22, 2016
The Capitol Report

 By Chris Christensen
Associate Vice President for State Relations

Today is the 35th day of the legislative session. Technically we have completed a little more than one-third of the session, although some years the 90-day statutory deadline is difficult to achieve.  Recall that last year, the legislature spent 143 days in regular and special session before a budget deal was finally reached.

As previously reported, the legislature is considering unprecedented cuts in the state operating budget for FY17. The steep decline in oil prices over the last year, coupled with the long-term reduction in oil production, has pushed the estimated deficit for the current fiscal year (FY16) to $3.8 billion. The deficit in FY17 may be just as large if circumstances do not change dramatically, and so far there is no sign that they will do so. Continuing deficits of this magnitude will drain the state’s savings accounts in three or four years.

Governor Walker submitted an FY17 budget plan to the legislature that proposed cutting $100 million from this year’s funding level. However, key legislators in both the House and the Senate have said that a cut of $500 million is actually needed, and it appears that they are working to achieve that goal.

The House UA Budget Subcommittee chaired by Representative Tammie Wilson has met seven times to consider the university’s operating budget. This subcommittee is doing the detailed budget review work and will make a recommendation to the full House Finance Committee. Last Thursday, Representative Wilson revealed her proposal to the other subcommittee members. It was stunning, both for the amount of the cut and for what the chair proposes to not fund.

The university received $350.8 million in unrestricted general funds from the legislature for FY16. The governor proposed giving the university $335.0 million for FY17, a net reduction of $15.8 million (4.5 percent). Representative Wilson has suggested that the appropriation should be $288 million, a net cut of $62.8 million (17.9 percent) from the university’s current budget. We have not yet completed a detailed analysis, but reducing the university’s base budget from $350.8 million to $288 million would most likely result in a job loss of 600 to 1000 positions system wide.

Moreover, Representative Wilson said her proposal was intended to only fund student instruction; there would be no state funding for research or public service. If the university wanted to conduct research or do other things, Wilson said it would have to find other funding. There is also intent language pending, proposed by another subcommittee member, that would direct the university to not use state funds to support athletics.

The lack of state support for research is particularly troubling. UA’s research grants for FY15 totaled $111.8 million, a disproportionately large amount considering the size of the system. For every dollar of state funding provided for research in FY15, UA received $4.10 in other research support, mostly from the federal government. Federal research grants generally require a state match, just as federal highway funds for roads and bridges require a state match. The federal money that UA injects into the state’s economy is money that might not otherwise have been spent in Alaska, and it is money that the state’s economy can’t afford to lose.

Representative Wilson has asked the other subcommittee members to submit amendments to her proposal by noon on Tuesday. On Wednesday from 7:00 - 7:30 p.m., the subcommittee will take up the proposal and any amendments, and pass a final recommendation on to the House Finance Committee.

Subcommittee members are interesting in knowing what you think of this proposal. If you would like to send comments to members prior to the meeting, here is their contact information:

Representative Tammie Wilson, Chair ( rep.tammie.wilson@akleg.gov )
Representative Jim Colver ( rep.jim.colver@akleg.gov )
Representative Neal Foster ( rep.neal.foster@akleg.gov )
Representative Paul Seaton ( rep.paul.seaton@akleg.gov )
Representative Liz Vasquez ( rep.liz.vazquez@akleg.gov )
Representative Andy Josephson ( rep.andy.josephson@akleg.gov )
Representative Adam Wool ( rep.adam.wool@akleg.gov )

You also can contact the House member who represents you and express your concerns, to be passed on to the subcommittee or to the caucus. If you know who your representative is, you can get contact information here: http://akleg.gov/house.php . If you don’t know, go to http://w3.legis.state.ak.us/ . At the bottom right of the page is a box labeled “Who Represents Me?” Enter your home address to get the information.

Other Hearings
The Senate Finance Committee also has a University Budget Subcommittee to do the detail work on the operating budget. That subcommittee is made up of two members of the Senate Finance Committee (Pete Kelly and Anna MacKinnon) and two senators who are not members of the Finance Committee. The subcommittee members are:

Senator Pete Kelly, Chair (R-Fairbanks; Senate Majority)
Senator Anna MacKinnon (R-Eagle River; Senate Majority)
Senator Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak; Senate Majority)
Senator Johnny Ellis (D-Anchorage; Senate Minority)

The Senate subcommittee will have its first meeting on Wednesday from 3:30 - 4:30 p.m. President Johnsen will be in Juneau for the meeting.

SB 174, "An Act relating to the regulation of firearms and knives by the University of Alaska," had two hearings last week in the Senate Education Committee. You can find UA’s position paper here http://www.akleg.gov/basis/get_documents.asp?session=29&docid=40784 and a briefing sheet here http://www.alaska.edu/files/state/2016-Guns---Final-Review.pdf . President Johnsen testified about the university’s concerns, and a number of students and other employees also testified in opposition to the legislation in its current form. The bill has a third hearing scheduled on Tuesday from 3:30 - 5:00 p.m., and it is expected to be passed out of committee at that time. The next committee of referral is the Senate Judiciary Committee.

New Bills
Representative Jim Colver introduced HB 322, "An Act limiting employee compensation for certain officers and employees in the exempt service; and providing for an effective date." The bill provides that no employee in the exempt service (the exempt service includes UA employees) can make a larger monthly base salary than the governor, with certain exceptions. The law would apply to new contracts entered into after July 1. The governor currently makes about $145,000 per year. Of course, his base salary is also supplemented by a free house and other valuable perks. The bill was referred to the State Affairs and Finance Committees. More information is at this link: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/get_bill.asp?session=29&bill=HB322

Thank you for all your work to promote and support the University of Alaska!

For more information, contact Associate Vice President Chris Christensen at cschristenseniii@alaska.edu or visit www.alaska.edu/state.

_______________________________________________

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Capitol Report: Feb. 12, 2016

February 12, 2016
The Capitol Report

 By Chris Christensen
Associate Vice President for State Relations

Today is the 25th day of the legislative session, and the last ten days have been eventful. During that time, we have had five budget hearings in the House, and legislation was introduced that will allow persons to carry concealed handguns on university property.

SB 174 – Guns on Campus
SB 174, "An Act relating to the regulation of firearms and knives by the University of Alaska," was introduced by Senator Pete Kelly on Monday. The bill was assigned to the Senate Education Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee, and the Education Committee has already scheduled two hearings next week. SB 174 takes away most of the Board of Regents’ authority to regulate the carrying of concealed handguns at the university, even by persons who don’t have a concealed carry permit. The Board is opposed to the bill in its current form, and we should have position papers on the State Relations web page by Monday. The bill appears to have many supporters in the Senate and is on a fast track. Senator Mike Dunleavy, the chair of the Senate Education Committee, is a co-sponsor of the bill, as is the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Lesil McGuire. You can find more information on SB 174 at http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Bill/Detail/29?Root=SB%20174 .

If you would like to express an opinion, the members of the Senate Education Committee are listed below, along with their contact information. You can also use the legislature’s Public Opinion Messaging System to send a 50-word message to some or all legislators (http://www.legis.state.ak.us/poms/ ).

Senator Mike Dunleavy, Chair ( Senator.Mike.Dunleavy@akleg.gov ; 465-6600)
Senator Charlie Huggins ( Senator.Charlie.Huggins@akleg.gov ; 465-3878)
Senator Cathy Giessel ( Senator.Cathy.Giessel@akleg.gov ; 465-4843)
Senator Gary Stevens ( Senator.Gary.Stevens@akleg.gov ; 465-4925)
Senator Berta Gardner ( Senator.Berta.Gardner@akleg.gov ; 465-4930)

For those who wish to testify, the hearings will be held on Tuesday and Thursday from 3:30 – 5:00 p.m. in the Capitol Building, Room 205. There will be a teleconference set up, so you can also testify from your local Legislative Information Office if you are not in Juneau.

Budget
The House is almost halfway through the operating budget review process. Earlier this week, the House stopped working on all issues that do not involve appropriations or revenues. Basically, it has decided to work only on budget-related issues until the operating budget passes the House in early March. This was a surprising decision, but members say that the state’s financial situation is so dire that they don’t want to be distracted from the budget process by other matters.

Ten days ago, the House’s University Budget Subcommittee began hearings on our FY17 operating budget. Normally, the subcommittee chair picks specific topics and has individuals from the university sit in the witness chair, testifying and answering question from subcommittee members on those topics. This year, Chair Tammie Wilson is doing something very different. So far, the subcommittee meetings have been informal roundtable discussions between members and university representatives, including members of the Board of Regents. The meetings are being held in a room with an audio broadcast but no webcam, to create a more relaxed atmosphere. If you are interested in listening to recordings of these meetings or watching video of other meetings, you can look them up in the Gavel to Gavel archive at http://www.360north.org/gavel-archives/?startPage=1

We have had four subcommittee meetings using this new format. On February 2, Representative Wilson presented her “University of Alaska Consolidation Proposal - Three Universities Made into One.” Representative Wilson believes that student retention rates and graduation rates are among the most important ways to measure university success, and that UA’s budget could reasonably be tied to its performance in improving those rates. Present at the meeting or online were Board of Regents Chair Jo Heckman, Regent John Davies, and Regent Ken Fisher. Also online were Vice President for Academic Affairs and Research Dan White, and Vice President for University Relations Michelle Rizk.

On February 4, the subcommittee continued the discussion of performance measures and metrics. Present online or at the meeting were Regents Heckman, Anderson and Fisher; UAS Chancellor Rick Caulfield and Interim Provost Priscilla Schulte; and Dan White and Michelle Rizk.

On February 9, the subcommittee continued the discussion of Representative Wilson’s proposal with Dan White and Michelle Rizk. Regent Heckman participated online.

Finally, on February 11, the subcommittee talked with me about the limited amount of income-producing land possessed by UA, and also discussed action taken to implement recommendations contained in the Final Report of the Alaska Advisory Task Force on Higher Education & Career Readiness (HECR). That report was issued in 2011, and made several recommendations to the university. Participating in that discussion were Dan White, Michelle Rizk, and Chancellor Caulfield.

The subcommittee process in the House will conclude in late February, and then the full House Finance Committee will take up the budget. Governor Walker’s operating budget contained a $100 million reduction from the current year’s level. However, members of the House and Senate majorities have repeatedly suggested that a $500 million cut is more likely. It is probable that UA will see a cut substantially larger than the $15.8 million net reduction (4.5 percent) that was proposed by the governor in his operating budget.

Dan White and Michelle Rizk also appeared before the full House Finance Committee on Tuesday to provide an overview to the committee. President Jim Johnsen was on medical leave this week due to some unexpected complications from his December shoulder surgery, so he could not appear. The president is continuing to work on the issues before the legislature, but he needs to keep a limited meeting and travel schedule for the next few weeks.

The Senate has not yet scheduled a Finance Committee overview or any hearings for its University Budget Subcommittee. It appears, however, that the Senate will try to complete the budget process several weeks earlier than normal, possibly by mid-March.

Other Meetings
The House Education Committee had a hearing on HB 264, "An Act relating to repayment of Alaska performance scholarships and Alaska education grants." The bill was introduced by Representative Tammie Wilson, and it would require repayment of Alaska Performance Scholarships and education grants if the recipient doesn’t complete the postsecondary program enrolled in within six years. UAF Provost Susan Henrichs submitted a letter expressing concerns about the effects of the bill on students. You can get more information about the bill and read the letter here: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/get_bill.asp?session=29&bill=HB264

The House’s Department of Education and Early Development (DEED) Budget Subcommittee met on Tuesday to take testimony from Jane Shelby, the Director of UAA’s WWAMI School of Medical Education. The WWAMI program is funded through DEED’s budget, not the university’s budget. Last year the House cut WWAMI funding, but the money was restored by the conference committee that resolved differences between the House and Senate budget versions. It would not be a surprise if the House cut WWAMI funding again this session, since the overall cuts are expected to be bigger than last year’s reductions.

Also at that meeting, UAA Vice Provost Herb Schroeder discussed funding for the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP) that is contained in the DEED budget.

Next Week
The House’s University Budget Subcommittee is scheduled to have three meetings next week. On Monday at 5:00 p.m., the subcommittee will continue its discussion of the HECR report. It will also discuss the reports commissioned by UA from Terrence MacTaggart (2008) and James Fisher (2011). On Tuesday at 5:00 p.m., the subcommittee will discuss UA facilities issues. A third meeting will be held on Thursday at 5:00 p.m., but the agenda has not yet been announced.

Thank you for supporting UA!

---------------------------------------------------

Watch Gavel to Gavel ( www.360north.org ) or the legislature’s streaming service (http://w3.legis.state.ak.us/#tab5 ) to view these and other hearings.

For more information, contact Chris Christensen at
cschristenseniii@alaska.edu or visit www.alaska.edu/state .

Capitol Report: Jan. 29, 2016

January 29, 2016
The Capitol Report

 By Chris Christensen
Associate Vice President for State Relations

Today is the 11th day of the Second Session of the 29th Alaska State Legislature. The session is scheduled to end in 79 days, on April 17.

The length of regular sessions was shortened from 121 days to 90 days in 2008. There is a lot of work to get done in only 90 days, and the shorter session means that legislators have less time to meet with constituents and less time to deliberate on the budgets and on other bills. As a consequence, committees start working at full speed during the first week. Of course, working hard for 90 days doesn’t always get things done on schedule; last year, it took a 98-day regular session and two special sessions to resolve all the budget issues before adjournment on June 11.

On the first day of session, Governor Walker introduced his operating and capital budget bills, and they were referred to the House and Senate Finance Committees. Traditionally, the operating budget is amended and passed first by the House, and then sent to the Senate. The capital budget is amended and passed first by the Senate, and then sent to the House.

The House Finance Committee and its budget subcommittees will be reviewing Governor Walker’s FY17 operating budget over the next four or five weeks. The work should be finished by early March, and then the budget will head to the House Floor for a vote.

A budget subcommittee will do the detailed review work on the University’s budget and send a recommendation back to the full Finance Committee. The subcommittee is composed of one House Finance Committee member (Tammie Wilson), and six legislators who are not members of the Finance Committee.

Our subcommittee members are:

  • Representative Tammie Wilson, Chair (R-North Pole; House Majority)
  • Representative Jim Colver (R-Palmer; House Majority)
  • Representative Neal Foster (D-Nome; House Majority)
  • Representative Paul Seaton (R-Homer; House Majority)
  • Representative Liz Vasquez (R-Anchorage; House Majority)
  • Representative Andy Josephson (D-Anchorage; House Minority)
  • Representative Adam Wool (D-Fairbanks; House Minority)

    As noted, the House starts the work on the operating budget, and the Senate Finance Committee will do much of its work only after the House has passed the budget and transmitted it to the Senate for consideration. The Senate Finance Committee also has a budget subcommittee to do the detail work on UA’s operating budget. The subcommittee is made up of two members of the Senate Finance Committee (Pete Kelly and Anna MacKinnon) and two senators who are not members of the Finance Committee.

The subcommittee members are:

  • Senator Pete Kelly, Chair (R-Fairbanks; Senate Majority)
  • Senator Anna MacKinnon (R-Eagle River; Senate Majority)
  • Senator Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak; Senate Majority)
  • Senator Johnny Ellis (D-Anchorage; Senate Minority)

    Last week, the House Education Committee had a joint meeting with the House University Budget Subcommittee to hear a presentation by Representative Tammie Wilson titled “University of Alaska Consolidation Proposal - Three Universities Made into One.” The presentation discussed UA performance, costs, and potential savings through consolidation. Representative Wilson’s basic point was that state revenues are in dramatic decline, and UA could increase opportunities and save money by consolidating academics and administration in the appropriate way. While one can disagree with some of the statistics used and conclusions drawn from them, there were points made that resonated with committee members. Representative Wilson emphasized that it is up the Board of Regents to decide how the university is structured and operated, and she would not be introducing legislation this year to force consolidation.

    If you are interested, you can watch a video of the 45-minute meeting and download a PowerPoint of the presentation at this link:
    http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Meeting/Detail?Meeting=HEDC%202016-01-22%2008:00:00

    Other Meetings:

    On Monday, a joint meeting of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees was held to hear Associate General Counsel Mike O’Brien provide an overview on Title IX and university policy. The questions by committee members focused on the due process rights afforded to students and employees who are accused of Title IX violations. An audio tape of the hearing can be found at this link:
    http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Meeting/Detail?Meeting=HJUD%202016-01-25%2013:30:00

    On Wednesday, a joint meeting of the House and Senate Education Committees was held to hear a report and a proposal by UAA Vice Provost Herb Schroeder, the founder of the Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program (ANSEP). Dr. Schroeder would like the university to take over Mt. Edgecombe High School from the Department of Education and Early Development and operate it as the ANSEP Acceleration High School, a three-year STEM academy. The sense of the committee was that the proposal had merit but raised many important questions that must be answered first. A video of the hearing can be seen at:
    http://www.360north.org/gavel/video/?clientID=2147483647&eventID=2016011077

    Gunnar Knapp, the Director of UAA’s Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER), participated in two Lunch and Learn events in the Capitol Building. On Tuesday, he spoke on "Alaska's Fiscal Challenge: What Every Alaskan Should Know & Think About.” On Thursday, he presented "The Fiscal Balance Game: A New & Instructive Way to Think About Alaska's Fiscal Challenge.” Both events were sponsored by the House Finance Committee.

    Next Week:

    The House University Budget Subcommittee has two hearings scheduled next week. On February 2 from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m., Representative Wilson will make a presentation on “Budget Overview & Consolidation Plan.” On February 4 from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., President Johnsen and others have been invited to discuss the budget and the university’s strategic plans. These meetings will take place in a room without a webcam, and it is unknown at this time if they will be broadcast by Gavel to Gavel.

    There will be a an overview on “The Fiscal Effects of Commercial Fishing and Mining” by Bob Loeffler, Professor of Public Policy, UAA  Institute of Social & Economic Research (ICER). Professor Loeffler will appear in front of the House Resources Committee on February 1 between 1:00 – 3:00 p.m., and in front of the Senate Resources Committee on the same day between 3:30 – 5:00 p.m. You can watch the hearings at this link:
    http://w3.legis.state.ak.us/index.php#tab5

    New Bills:

    Several bills of interest to the UA community have been introduced this session:

    Representative Jim Colver introduced HB 232, "An Act relating to the duties of the Department of Education and Early Development; relating to student assessments; and prohibiting the Department of Education and Early Development from administering the Alaska Measures of Progress student assessments." The bill was referred to the Education and Finance Committees. No hearings have yet been scheduled. You can get more information here:
    http://www.akleg.gov/basis/get_bill.asp?session=29&bill=HB232

    Representative Tammie Wilson introduced HB 264, "An Act relating to repayment of Alaska performance scholarships and Alaska education grants." The bill was referred to the Education and Finance Committees. No hearings have yet been scheduled. You can get more information here:
    http://www.akleg.gov/basis/get_bill.asp?session=29&bill=HB264

    Representative Tammie Wilson also introduced HB 265, "An Act relating to terminating the Alaska technical and vocational education program; increasing contributions to the Department of Labor and Workforce Development for the State Training and Employment Program; and providing for an effective date." The bill was referred to the Labor & Commerce and Finance Committees. No hearings have yet been scheduled. You can get more information here:
    http://www.akleg.gov/basis/get_bill.asp?session=29&bill=HB265

    Thank you for your support of the University of Alaska!
    --
    Watch Gavel to Gavel (www.360north.org) or the legislature’s webcam network (http://akleg.gov/index.php#tab5) to view live and archived hearings. Also see the legislative information web page (http://www.legis.state.ak.us/basis/start.asp) for information on bills and committee meetings.

    For more information, contact Chris Christensen at
    cschristenseniii@alaska.edu or visit www.alaska.edu/state .

Capitol Report: Jan. 20, 2016

January 20, 2016
The Capitol Report

 By Chris Christensen
Associate Vice President for State Relations

The Second Session of the 29th Alaska State Legislature is underway in Juneau, and the 90-day session will be a challenging one. My name is Chris Christensen, and I am the Associate Vice President for State Relations. This will be the 33rd session I have spent working with the legislature in Juneau, and my fifth year representing the university. I know the legislature and its members well, but each year brings new challenges and unexpected complications. One thing I have learned in my time here is that there are many passionate advocates for the university, people who are willing to devote their time and energy to advancing its interests. You made my first four sessions with UA much easier, and I look forward to working with all of you again this year.

Over the course of the legislative session, you will be receiving this newsletter periodically to keep you up to date on what is happening in Juneau. When there are important hearings or opportunities to actively engage in advocacy for the university, we will also post it on the UA State Relations webpage: www.alaska.edu/state

Our most important task each session is advocating for the university’s operating and capital budgets. That job has been made more difficult over the last few years by the dramatic reduction in oil revenues received by the state, the result of both declining production and a collapse in prices. In FY13, the state took in $6.3 billion in unrestricted revenues. By FY15, unrestricted revenues had declined to $2.3 billion. During FY16, the current fiscal year, it is estimated that the state will receive $1.8 billion in unrestricted revenues. In FY 17, unrestricted revenues are projected to be about $2 billion. This decline means that the state will run an estimated $3.6 billion deficit during the current fiscal year. When the legislature puts together the FY17 budgets this session, it will attempt to lower next year’s deficit by reducing state spending.

Governor Walker announced his FY17 operating and capital budgets on December 15. Those budgets propose that the state spend 3.1 percent less in unrestricted general fund (UGF) dollars than it is spending during the current fiscal year.

For the university’s operating budget, the governor is proposing a $25.6 million UGF decrease from the FY16 base budget, and a $9.8 million UGF increase for certain salary and benefit adjustments for employees. The net decrease from FY16 is $15.8 million, or 4.5 percent.

In his capital budget, Governor Walker is proposing that UA receive $10 million UGF for deferred maintenance. Unfortunately, there is no funding in his budget for the balance needed to complete construction of the new UAF engineering building ($34.8 million). In addition to the capital budget, the governor will be proposing a general obligation bond package to fund additional capital expenses. If enacted by the legislature, the bond package will be put on the ballot for voter approval in November. We don’t know at this time what projects will be included by the governor.

Governor Walker is also proposing the New Sustainable Alaska Plan, his blueprint for state government finances in the future. The plan proposes additional cuts to state spending; key investments in things like a gas pipeline and education; adjustments to the way that revenues are deposited into the various state accounts to reduce volatility; reductions to the size of the Permanent Fund Dividend; and the implementation of new taxes and increases in certain existing taxes. It is intended that the amount of cuts and new revenues generated by the plan would largely close the existing gap between revenues and spending.

At this point, there appears to be a large divide between the governor and the legislative majorities on the specifics of the New Sustainable Alaska Plan, and on how much more the operating budget should be cut this session. It’s an election year, and that must always be factored into the process. It will be an interesting session to watch.

The House and Senate Finance Committees are already starting to work on the operating budget. University President Jim Johnsen has been asked to appear before the House Finance Committee on Monday, February 8 between 1:30 –3:30 p.m. to give committee members an overview on UA and its operating budget. We will keep you updated as budget hearings are added to the schedule.

Here are some reference guides for your information and use. As the legislature updates them in the next week or two, we will post them on the State Relations webpage for easy access:

A roster of legislative members with contact information:
http://akleg.gov/docs/pdf/whoswho2015.pdf

Legislators by district:
http://akleg.gov/docs/pdf/DISTRICTS.pdf

Committee assignments for the 29th legislature:
http://akleg.gov/docs/pdf/commlist.pdf

 BASIS – A great reference tool to locate specific legislation, bill sponsors, legislative actions, and a host of other reference materials:
http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Home/BillsandLaws

 Thank you for supporting the University of Alaska!

 For more information, contact Associate Vice President Chris Christensen at cschristenseniii@alaska.edu or visit www.alaska.edu/state .

End of First Session: Final Capitol Report of 2015

June 11, 2015

The Capitol Report
By Chris Christensen
Associate Vice President for State Relations

It has been 143 days since the 29th Alaska State Legislature gaveled in on January 20. After a 98-day regular session and two special sessions, the legislature is getting ready to adjourn after reaching an agreement on the FY16 operating budget.

The agreement obtained the three-quarters vote needed to access the Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR). The CBR is the savings account that will be used to cover the estimated $3.2 billion deficit that the state will have in FY16. Prior to this agreement, the Senate was able to achieve a three-quarters vote but the House was not; the House minority refused to provide the necessary votes unless additional funding for certain items was added to the operating budget and the pay raises in the collective bargaining agreements were approved.

The operating budget that finally passed the legislature reduced UA’s budget from the FY15 level by $26.4 million. This cut is $5 million smaller than the $31.4 million cut that was on the table when the regular session ended on April 27. One of the demands of the House Minority was that UA’s cut be reduced by $5 million, and this demand became part of the final compromise.

The final operating budget also approved the collective bargaining agreements negotiated by UA and by the state, and it provided funding for pay raises for union and non-union employees. However, after providing additional money for the raises, the budget gave the executive branch (including the university) an unallocated cut in an amount equal to the amount of the raises. Basically, this means that no additional funds were provided to cover pay raises.

The cost of raises for UA’s union employees is approximately $8 million. The cost of raises for non-union employees is approximately $12 million.

The following intent language for the pay raises was added to the budget:

It is the intent of the legislature that the following appropriations be one-time increments to the operating budget. It is the intent of the legislature that there be no cost-of-living pay raises beginning with collective bargaining agreements negotiated in 2015.

It is the intent of the legislature that language in each of the negotiated collective bargaining agreements allow for the agreements to be re-opened if the oil price of Alaska North Slope West Coast reaches $95.00 and if that price is maintained or increases over that amount for a period of 60 consecutive days; this language shall be reviewed at the end of the three-year negotiated agreements.

It is the intent of the legislature that language in each of the negotiated collective bargaining agreements allow for the agreements to be re-opened if the oil price of Alaska North Slope West Coast falls below $45.00 and remains below that amount for a period of 60 consecutive days; this language shall be reviewed at the end of the three-year negotiated agreements.

There was also intent language relating to the unallocated reduction that was equal to the amount added for the pay raises:

It is the intent of the legislature that the unallocated reduction be implemented in a manner that results in a minimum number of state employee layoffs and that is geared toward finding internal agency and department efficiencies. It is the intent of the legislature that no supplemental funding be requested during the next regular session to fill the unallocated reduction.

You can find more information on the compromise budget bill (HB 2001) that was just passed here: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Bill/Detail/29?Root=HB2001#tab6_4

The budget will now go to Governor Walker for signature or veto. The assumption is that he will sign it into law. With the passage of a fully-funded operating budget, there should be no additional special sessions on the budget this year.

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For more information, contact Associate Vice President Chris Christensen at

cschristenseniii@alaska.edu

FY16 Budgets and Bills: Capitol Report May 1, 2015

May 1, 2015

The Capitol Report
By Chris Christensen
Associate Vice President for State Relations

Session Status

Ninety-seven days after it began, the First Session of the 29th Alaska State Legislature adjourned on April 27. This was one week later than scheduled. Immediately upon adjournment, Governor Walker called legislators into a special session to address issues that were not dealt with to the governor’s satisfaction during the regular session. Special sessions can last for up to 30 days.

The FY16 budget deficit was estimated to be $4 billion, assuming no cuts were made to the operating and capital budgets. The legislature passed FY16 operating and capital budgets during the regular session that contain approximately $800 million in cuts, meaning that the deficit for the next fiscal year will be about $3.2 billion. In other words, it is predicted that the revenues received by the state in FY16 will be $3.2 billion less than the level of spending that was just approved by the legislature.

With expenses that are $3.2 billion more than revenues, the legislature needed to access funds in the Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR) to cover the gap. Keep in mind that unlike the federal government, the state can’t run a deficit; it can only spend as much as it has available either in revenue or in savings accounts.

The CBR is a savings account that had billions of dollars put into it when oil prices and production were much higher than they are now. The legislature can tap the CBR to fund the budget when revenues are less than expenses. The problem is that while the budget normally needs a simple majority vote in the House and the Senate to pass, taking money from the CBR requires a three-quarters vote. In the Senate, the operating budget did get a three-quarters vote to withdraw money from the CBR. Unfortunately, the operating budget did not get the three-quarters vote for the CBR in the House. This means that while an operating budget has passed the legislature, it is not fully funded; without accessing the money in the CBR, the state’s revenues and other savings accounts will run out sometime around September, and there will be no money to continue operating state government.

The House did not get the three-quarters vote to withdraw savings from the CBR because the House minority doesn’t agree with the cuts made in the operating budget. They want to add money back in some areas and reduce funding in other areas. Essentially, needing the CBR to fully fund the budget means that the House minority has influence over the final budget that it normally would not have. Governor Walker also does not like the final operating budget, and wants funds added back.

The assumption last week was that the legislature would return in special session sometime this summer, to try again to get the votes needed to access the CBR. However, Governor Walker doesn’t want the legislature to leave Juneau without fully funding the budget.

During a special session called by the governor, the legislature can only work on those items specified by the governor. Those items are the budget; HB 148, relating to Medicaid expansion; and HB 44, relating to sexual abuse and sexual assault prevention programs (commonly known as “Erin’s Law”).

Pending the results of the special session, the following is a summary of legislative action this session.

FY16 Operating Budget

The current fiscal year, FY15, is the third year in row in which the state has run a deficit and had to fund part of the budget by withdrawing money from savings accounts. Until now, the state has been able to use savings accounts that did not require a three-quarters vote, so there was no impasse while enacting the last three budgets.

When the legislature left Juneau in April of last year, it anticipated that the budget for FY15 would result in a $1.4 billion deficit. Then in September, oil prices collapsed. The deficit is now estimated to be $4 billion. As noted above, the estimated deficit for FY16 is $3.2 billion. The significance of these huge deficits is that the state’s savings accounts will only last for so long. A few years ago, it was estimated that the savings would cover deficits until FY23, by which time it was hoped that increased oil production or the building of a natural gas pipeline might result in a revenue increase. Now, the legislature is operating on the assumption that the savings accounts will be drained in less than three years, during FY18.

The FY16 unrestricted general fund budget for all-agency operations that was approved by the House and Senate is about $444 million less than the FY15 budget. The operating budget is contained in two bills, CCS HB 72 and CCS HB 73.

Unfortunately, UA’s operating budget was substantially decreased from the FY15 level. The legislature approved a UA operating budget for FY16 that includes a net reduction in unrestricted general funds from FY15 of $29.88 million, or 8.1 percent. The average agency cut in this budget is 9.9 percent. The cut is unallocated; UA can decide how best to spread it.

The budget bill that passed the legislature also rejected the monetary terms of all state and university collective bargaining agreements, removed funds from the budget that were intended to cover scheduled pay raises for union and nonunion employees, and prohibited agencies from using other money to pay for raises.

We did have success with the legislature in a few areas. The conference committee decided to provide UA with $1.86 million to continue funding the unmanned aircraft systems program at UAF. It also decided to reject House proposals to start the termination of the WWAMI collaborative medical school program at UAA.

The operating budget also included intent language that encourages state agencies to send research to UA, instead of sending it to other contractors:

It is the intent of the legislature that all state agencies and instrumentalities that intend to contract for basic or applied research, including consultation, undertaking a study, performing a needs assessment, or providing an analysis, pursue discussions and negotiations with the University's Vice-President for Academic Affairs and Research to determine if the University can provide that service to the agency, and if so, to obtain that service from the University unless contrary to the best interests of the State or contrary to another provision of law.

The operating budget passed by the legislature has not yet been submitted to the governor for signature or veto. With the start of the special session, the governor has submitted new budget bills to the House and Senate (HB 1001 and SB 1001) that have the practical effect of increasing the budget that already passed. The legislature has already redrafted the governor’s bills to make it easier to see what he wants to add to the already-passed budget. You can review the redraft of HB 1001 here: http://www.legis.state.ak.us/basis/get_documents.asp?session=29&docid=8530

Two items are significant for UA. First, the governor wants the legislature to add back $7 million to UA’s budget, to reduce the size of our cut from $29.88 million to $22.88 million. Second, the governor wants the legislature to approve the monetary terms of the collective bargaining agreements for all agencies, and put money in the budget to fund the pay raises that are in those agreements. The governor’s bill does not contain any funds to pay for the scheduled raises of nonunion state or university employees.

The legislature has recessed the special session until Tuesday, May 12, when all members are scheduled to return to Juneau. Next week, the House Finance Committee and the Senate Finance Committee plan to have several meetings on the governor’s new budget proposal. Senate Finance will meet in Juneau, and House Finance will meet in Anchorage.

FY16 Capital Budget

The capital budget (HCS CSSB 26 FIN AM H) that passed the legislature can be found here: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Bill/Detail/29?Root=SB%20%2026

The FY16 capital budget has the smallest general fund component of any capital budget since 2001. Governor Walker’s capital budget proposed spending $158 million in general funds for capital projects, including $16 million for UA. $8 million would have been used for deferred maintenance, and $8 million would have funded additional construction on the new UAF engineering building.

The legislature cut the capital budget to $108 million in general funds, with only $3 million going to UA for deferred maintenance. No funding was provided for the UAF engineering building. Most of the unrestricted general funds in the capital budget were put there because federal matching money is available, and unfortunately UA’s projects have no federal match.

There is no proposal in the special session to add more money to UA’s capital budget.

Legislation

Many pieces of legislation that would directly or indirectly impact UA were introduced during the session. Any bill or resolution that did not pass prior to adjournment will remain in committee, to be considered next session. None of these bills can be heard during the current special session. Bills that passed the legislature will now be sent to the governor to be signed into law or vetoed. Resolutions are not subject to veto.

Once a bill has passed the legislature and is sent to the governor, he must sign it or veto it within 15 days if the legislature is in session (not counting Sundays) or within 20 days if the legislature is not in session (not counting Sundays). Typically, the legislature does not actually send bills to the governor for signature or veto immediately after passage. Instead, the bills are held for a period of time, sometimes for more than a month. This delay allows agencies extra time to review and recommend items for signature or veto.

These are the noteworthy bills and resolutions that were considered during the 2015 session:

HB 1 – STATE ARCTIC POLICY by Rep. Bob Herron

http://www.legis.state.ak.us/basis/get_bill.asp?session=29&bill=HB0001

Status: Passed the House and the Senate/currently waiting for action by Governor Walker

This bill declares the arctic policy of the State of Alaska. The policy includes “build(ing) capacity to conduct science and research and advance innovation and technology in part by providing support to the University of Alaska for Arctic research consistent with state priorities.”

HB 54 – UNIVERSITY INSTITUTES OF LAW AND MEDICINCE by Rep. Scott Kawasaki

http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Bill/Detail/29?Root=HB%20%2054

Status: Currently in the House Education Committee

This bill would authorize the university to establish a medical school at UAF and a law school at UAA. The bill was not introduced at the request of the university.

HB 63 – STUDENT LOAN INTEREST REDUCTIONS by Rep. Les Gara, Rep. David Ortiz, and Rep. Adam Wool

http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Bill/Detail/29?Root=HB%20%2063

Status: Currently in the House Education Committee

Currently, Alaskans pay interest rates of roughly 6.6% for new and outstanding student loans. This bill restructures Alaska student loans by reducing the interest rate charged on student loans for residents by 2.5%. The borrower must establish and maintain residency for one year prior to obtaining the loan, must maintain residency in Alaska while repaying the loan, and cannot be in default. The purpose of this legislation is to help encourage Alaska’s youth to remain in or return to Alaska following completion of their postsecondary studies, while relieving high debt burdens.

HB 80 – REPEAL COLLEGE/CAREER READINESS ASSESSMENTS by Rep. Lynn Gattis

http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Bill/Detail/29?Root=HB%20%2080

Status: Passed the House/currently in the Senate Education Committee

With the passage of HB 278 in 2014, all secondary students were required take the ACT, SAT or Work Keys exam to receive a high school diploma, at state expense. HB 80 removes the mandate for student college and career readiness assessment. Students who wish to be eligible for the Performance Scholarship or college admissions would still be able to take the tests, but would have to pay for the testing themselves.

HB 85 – STUDENT DATA AND ASSESSMENTS by Rep. Lora Reinbold

http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Bill/Detail/29?Root=HB%20%2085

Status: Currently in the House Finance Committee

Like HB 80, this bill repeals the mandate for student college and career readiness assessment. It also places restrictions on the collection and use of student data.

HB 107 – BOARD OF REGENTS REGIONAL RESIDENCY QUALIIFCATION by Rep. Lynn Gattis

http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Bill/Detail/29?Root=HB%20107

Status: Passed the House/currently in the Senate Education Committee

This bill changes the current at-large composition of the Board of Regents to a regional composition. Under the bill, the board would be composed of one student regent, four at-large regents, and six regents who are residents of specific regions of the state. This includes one each from the Municipality of Anchorage; the Fairbanks North Star Borough; the City and Borough of Juneau; the Kenai Peninsula Borough; the Matanuska-Susitna Borough; and a community not connected by road or rail to Anchorage or Fairbanks.

HB 176 – REPEAL STATE EMPLOYEE SALARY INCREASES by the House Finance Committee

http://www.legis.state.ak.us/basis/get_bill.asp?bill=HB%20176&session=29

Status: Passed the House and the Senate/currently waiting for transmittal to the governor.

This bill repeals the statutory salary increase that was scheduled to be granted to non-union state employees in FY16. This bill was companion legislation to the rejection of the union salary increase for state employees and university employees that was made in the operating budget bills (HB 72 and HB 73).

HB 211 – RETIREMENT INCENTIVE PROGRAMS FOR PUBLIC EMPLOYEES, TEACHERS by Rep. Scott Kawasaki

Status: Currently in the House State Affairs Committee

http://www.legis.state.ak.us/basis/get_bill.asp?session=29&bill=hb211&submit=Display+Bill

This bill authorizes PERS and TRS employers such as the university to set up a retirement incentive program for members of those retirement systems.

HCR 10 – MARITIME WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT by Rep. Louise Stutes

http://www.legis.state.ak.us/basis/get_bill.asp?bill=HCR%2010&session=29

Status: Passed the House/currently in the Senate Rules Committee

This resolution recognizes the need for the Alaska Maritime Workforce Development Plan, the Alaska Workforce Investment Board and Alaska Vocational & Technical Education Center in Seward (AVTEC). It conveys support for the Alaska Maritime Workforce Industry Advisory Committee, whose guidance and leadership will be an integral component of the implementation of the Plan. HCR 10 encourages support and participation by various state agencies already tasked with the mission of workforce development, including the university.

SB 81 – UNIVERITY OF ALASKA BUILDING FUND; UNIVERSITY RECEIPTS by Sen. Pete Kelly

http://www.legis.state.ak.us/basis/get_bill.asp?bill=SB%20%2081&session=29

Status: Currently in the Senate Education Committee

SB 81 was introduced at the request of the university. UA is a land grant university, but it never received its land. For various legal reasons, the state will not be able to create, on its own, the type of permanent land endowment that universities in other states have been able to develop into significant revenue generators. SB 81 sets out a new model, Land Equivalency Grant for University Progress (LEG-UP). Patterned to some degree after the Public School Trust Fund, this bill would have an equivalent percentage of state resource development revenues (limited to those revenues flowing from future leases, sales, or other agreements) put into the University Building Fund (created under AS 37.05.555) , all subject to legislative appropriation authority.

SCR 9 - UA EDUCATION CREDIT FOR MILITARY TRAINING by Sen. Bill Stoltz by request

http://www.legis.state.ak.us/basis/get_bill.asp?bill=SCR%20%209&session=29

Status: Currently in the Senate Education Committee

This resolution encourages the University of Alaska to consider accepting upper division undergraduate credits awarded to members of the military and to veterans toward masters degrees.

SJR 2 – CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT: STUDENT LOAN DEBT by Sen. Anna MacKinnon

http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Bill/Detail/29?Root=SJR%20%202

Status: Passed the Senate/currently in the House Education Committee

This resolution would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2016. If the voters approve the amendment, it would allow the Alaska Student Loan Corporation to issue general obligation bonds, which would result in lower interest rates for student loans.

A Final Note

Many thanks to all who actively participated in advocating for the University of Alaska during the regular session. Whether you provided public testimony on budget initiatives or bills, wrote letters, sent emails, or met with legislators and staff, the collective actions of all encouraged legislators take actions that benefited the university. Going forward, we will keep you posted on the status of the special session and the final operating budget.

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For more information, contact Associate Vice President Chris Christensen at

cschristenseniii@alaska.edu or visit www.alaska.edu/state/

 

 

Click HERE for the archive of 2015 Capitol Reports covering the first session of the 29th Legislature.


This publication is produced and distributed by the State Relations office of the University of Alaska System with assistance from the UA Office of Public Affairs.

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