Capitol report

The Capitol Report: August 9, 2019

Special Second Session Adjourns

The second special session of the 31st Alaska Legislature has adjourned. While lawmakers have returned to their home districts, they may still revisit some unresolved issues around the state’s spending plan and the Permanent Fund Dividend this fall.

Governor Signs Capital Budget
On Thursday Governor Dunleavy signed the revised FY20 Capital Budget but exercised his line-item veto authority to cut $34.7 million in spending, including $2.5 million for university deferred maintenance and $2.5 million for the Alaska Earthquake Center’s USArray initiative. These vetoes are disappointing given the strong justification, significant need and bi-partisan support these critical infrastructure projects received in the legislature. We did receive $5 million for deferred maintenance in SB19, the original capital budget that was signed in July. You can see a full list of the Governor’s vetoes here.

In the bill, lawmakers appropriated approximately $350 million back into the Alaska Higher Education Investment Fund through a budget mechanism known as a “reverse sweep”. In signing the bill, the Governor approved the use of the Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR) to reconstitute the Higher Education Fund and a number of other state designated funds whose balanced had been sweep at the end of the fiscal year. With the Higher Education Fund restored, this year’s performance scholarships, needs-based education grants and WWAMI medical school program funds are now available.

Supplemental Operating Budget Transmitted to Governor
The Legislature has transmitted a supplemental operating budget, House Bill 2001, to the Governor for his signature. The appropriations bill would add back $110 million to the UA’s FY20 operating budget. If approved this would set UA’s general fund budget for the current year at $302 million, $25 million below last year’s level.

The Governor introduced a proposal to cut $133 million from UA’s budget over the next two years - $95 million this year and another $38 million in FY21 at the Board of Regent’s meeting July 30th. Conversations between the Governor’s office and university leadership are ongoing. You can view the Board of Regents meeting here.

Policymakers Tour R/V Sikuliaq in Seward
On Thursday, the College of Fisheries and Ocean Science (CFOS) and UA Government Relations hosted staff from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, and U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski’s office for a tour of R/V Sikuliaq and the Seward Marine Center. Operated by UAF on behalf of NSF, R/V Sikuliaq is one of the newest vessels in the U.S. academic fleet, and one of the most advanced research vessels in the world.

This week’s visit was an excellent opportunity to showcase one of UA’s premiere research assets and to meet with the ship’s scientists, researchers and crew. Sikuliaq was in Seward loading “Jason” the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) designed and built by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute’s Deep Submergence Laboratory. ROV Jason will facilitate the retrieval of ocean seismometers that were deployed around the Alaska Peninsula last summer as part of Dr. Spahr Webb’s Alaska Amphibious Community Seismic Experiment (AACSE).

Senator Birch Passes
Legislators and many Alaskans were shocked and saddened by the unexpected death of Anchorage Senator Chris Birch. The Senator was in his third year serving in the legislature, and enjoyed a long history of public service across Alaska. An engineer by training, Senator Birch was a UA alum receiving his bachelors (class of ’72) and masters (class of ’79) degrees at UAF. His presence in the Capitol will be greatly missed. Our condolences go out to Pam, Logan, Tali and the entire Birch family.