The Capitol Report
January 23, 2017
Associate Vice President, Government Relations
Greetings from Juneau and welcome to the Capitol Report.
Last Tuesday, the 30th Alaska State Legislature gaveled-in to begin the first day of their 90-day legislative session here in Juneau. While there are many familiar faces in the building this year, we have an unusually large freshman class of both legislators and staff. Nearly one-quarter of the elected members are new and the House will be led by a bipartisan coalition. It’s clear that the entire legislature will need a little more time than normal to settle in.
My name is Miles Baker and I’m the new Associate Vice President, Government Relations. I’m extremely honored to be at the University of Alaska and working on your behalf. It’s my job to advocate for the university’s policy priorities, legislative agenda, and most importantly, our operating and capital budgets. I’ll be based in Juneau for the duration of the session, working out of the office the university maintains in the historic Ebner Building just across the street from the State Capitol.
I’ve been working in and around the legislature for over a decade, and have a good understanding of the people and the institution. But this is a huge team effort. I’ve spent the last two months better educating myself about the university, familiarizing myself with our priorities and preparing to represent you full-time here in Juneau. During my orientation I met faculty, staff, students, alumni, and business leaders. Every one of them is a passionate and knowledgeable university advocate who communicated a willingness to devote time and energy to help advance our interests. I hope I can continue to use you as a resource, and trust you will do the same.
Over the course of the legislative session, you will be receiving periodic communications from me designed to keep you up to date on important developments in Juneau. When there are opportunities to advocate on the university’s behalf, we want you to know. We’re also in the process of improving the information and resources available on the UA Government Relations webpage www.alaska.edu/state, so please check back on a regular basis. This year, in addition to our FY18 budget, we’ll be working to reauthorize the Technical Vocational Education Program and the Alaska Education Tax Credit. We also intend to raise awareness within the legislature of our critical land trust deficit in the hopes of achieving a near-term resolution at the state and federal level.
These are challenging and consequential times for the state and the university. Declines in both oil production and price have resulted in Alaska’s unrestricted general fund revenues dropping from $9.5 billion in FY12 to just $1.4 billion this year and are projected to be only slightly higher in FY18 at $1.6 billion. For the sixth year in a row, the state’s general fund revenues are not sufficient to cover annual operating expenses. Running $3.0 billion annual deficits has forced dramatic reductions in state spending and drawn down the state’s primary savings accounts.
Governor Walker’s FY18 budget proposal maintains total spending at roughly last year’s $5.0 billion level. With general fund revenue only expected to cover 32% of those costs, the Governor’s proposal includes a $2.5 billion draw from the permanent fund earnings reserve, a motor fuel tax increase and a two-year salary freeze for non-unionized public employees. Even if these proposals are approved, the state will still have an $800 million structural deficit in FY18. Consequently, the Walker administration has indicated that they expect additional revenue measures to be part of the legislative discussion this session.
Advocating for the university’s annual operating and capital appropriations is our most important task. As you know, our budget has been cut by $53 million (14%) over the last three years and we expect continued pressure from the legislature this year. While the Governor’s budget proposal holds our funding at last year’s $325 million level, it’s $16.3 million less than the Board of Regents’ request. The Regents also requested $50 million in capital funds for deferred maintenance. Those funds were not included in the administration’s budget proposal.
The House Finance Committees will start operating budget hearings this week. University President Jim Johnsen is scheduled to appear before the committee on Tuesday January 31st at 1:30pm to present the University’s FY18 operating request. You can stream this hearing online at www.gavelalaska.org or at akl.tv, or watch it on television on 360 North. We will keep you updated as other budget related hearings are added to the calendar.
I look forward to working closely with you this year. If you find yourself in Juneau or have any questions, I can be reached at:
227 4th Street
The legislature is still updating its public information. As it becomes available, we will update the Government Relations website. In the meantime, these recently updated resources are available:
BASIS– (Bill Action Status Inquiry System)