Capitol Report 2021
May 13, 2021
Operating Budget Heads to Senate, Permanent Fund Deal Proposed, UA Regents Confirmed
Today is the 115th day of the Legislative Session. Lawmakers and staff will be working through the upcoming weekend to try and complete their work by the constitutional regular session limit next Wednesday. The Operating Budget has been transmitted to the Senate and big decisions about the PFD and federal funding remain. We are also expecting action on legislation to expand Middle College programs and reauthorize the TVEP program. Your Government Relations Team is actively engaged in the Capitol. UA Interim President Pat Pitney and Vice President Michelle Rizk are also in Juneau working with legislators to advocate on behalf of our university.
Operating Budget Passes House
The House of Representatives has passed the FY22 Operating Budget. During a marathon floor session on Monday, lawmakers worked through dozens of amendments before approving the budget. The slim margin between the House Majority and Republican Minority caucuses made the floor debates lively, and led to both close votes and adoption of numerous minority amendments.
During the debate, Rep. Sarah Vance (R-Homer) introduced an amendment adding budget intent language regarding firearms on university campuses. The amendment failed by a vote of 19 to 20. You can watch the floor debate on the issue here.
The Operating Budget has been transmitted to the Senate and referred to the Finance Committee. Things will be moving fast, and we expect the Senate to release its version of the budget as early as this afternoon. The budget will ultimately be finalized by a conference committee to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.
Parnell Appointed UAA Chancellor
UA Interim President Pat Pitney has announced the appointment of former Alaska Governor Sean Parnell to serve as Chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage. Parnell served as Alaska’s tenth Governor from 2009 to 2014. He previously served as Lieutenant Governor and represented Anchorage in the Legislature from 1992 to 2000.
Chancellor Parnell’s deep commitment to higher education is well known across our state. As governor, Parnell sponsored and implemented the Alaska Performance Scholarship program, providing financial aid to graduating Alaska high school students who meet academic criteria. In doing so, he worked with the Legislature to establish a $400 million endowment funding the scholarship, as well as needs-based grants to enhance higher education and job training opportunities in Alaska.
During his tenure as Governor, Parnell oversaw substantial investment in our university. This included construction of the Alaska Airlines Center, new facilities for engineering and health sciences, expansion of our community campuses, and robust funding to address UA deferred maintenance. He also signed legislation helping preserve Alaska Native Languages and advance UA’s educational mission. Welcome Chancellor!
Permanent Fund Compromise Proposed by Governor
Governor Dunleavy has announced a constitutional amendment regarding use and protections of the Alaska Permanent Fund. At a press conference yesterday, the Governor put forward a proposal to place both the PFD and the allowable use of the Permanent Fund for state government into the constitution. Annual dividends and funding state services would come from a 5% structured draw, the amount of which would be calculated through a 5-year average of the Permanent Fund’s value. This endowment model of management is frequently referred to as Percent of Market Value (POMV), and currently happens via Alaska Statute.
The package would also move $17 billion from the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve Account into the corpus of the fund, making it off-limits for appropriation. The compromise provides for $3 billion from the earnings reserve to be transferred to the Constitutional Budget Reserve, where it can only be accessed by a three-quarters vote of each body of the Legislature. As part of the deal, the Power Cost Equalization program, which provides utility assistance to rural communities, would also be protected in the constitution and its endowments of $1.1 billion moved into the corpus of the Permanent Fund. The Governor’s office released some initial calculations forecasting what these changes could mean for the PFD amount, revenue available for state services, and PCE funding. You can find that information here.
While discussions about use of the Permanent Fund, the dividend, and related issues have circulated in the Capitol for several years – this proposal is a monumental policy call. Approval will require a two-thirds majority vote by each body of the Legislature, and we can expect this proposal to be hotly debated by lawmakers. Those discussions began Wednesday afternoon, with the Senate Judiciary Committee holding a hearing on the amendment (SJR 6), and advancing it to the Senate Finance Committee for further consideration. You can view the hearing here. If enacted by the Legislature, the proposed constitutional amendment would be put to voters at the general election in 2022.
UA Regents Confirmed by Legislature
On Tuesday the Legislature convened a joint session to consider Governor Dunleavy’s appointments to members of his cabinet and numerous state boards and commissions. The annual occurrence is called for in Article 3, Section 26 of the Constitution of the State of Alaska, which requires confirmation for the heads of state departments and most state boards.
The lengthy session confirmed three new members of the Governor’s cabinet, as well as more than 100 individuals serving on state boards. UA Regents Dale Anderson, Ralph Seekins and Scott Jepsen were approved with overwhelming support. Lawmakers did reject three of the Governor’s nominations to the Board of Fisheries, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority Board of Trustees. The joint session ratified the Governor’s selection of Lucinda Mahoney (UAA ’07 MBA) to serve as Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Revenue. She becomes the fourth UA alumni to serve in Governor Dunleavy’s cabinet. You can watch the brief debate on the UA Board of Regents appointments here.
Did You Know?
Every day matters during the Legislative Session! The length of the Legislature’s regular sessions are set by the Constitution of the State of Alaska. Article II, Section 8 calls for lawmakers to adjourn no later than 120 consecutive calendar days from the date it convenes – unless extended by the Legislature or the Governor in an extended or special session. The specific length of session came under close scrutiny years ago during the 14th Alaska Legislature.
As lawmakers worked late into the evening May 12, 1986 (day 120), it became clear the Legislature would not finish its work on time. Right before proceedings spilled over into the early morning of May 13, both the House and Senate voted to stop the clock and back-dated the final bills as having been passed on May 12. A lawsuit was filed, Alaska Christian Bible Institute v. State of Alaska, seeking to invalidate this legislation as being improperly considered outside of a session of the Legislature (past 120 days). Superior Court Judge Shortell, and later the Alaska Supreme Court, ruled that the constitution stipulates a 120-day regular session from the day lawmakers convene – therefore the first day of session is not counted and the laws enacted were upheld. Thus, today the Alaska Legislature has a 120-day session which lasts for 121 days!
May 7, 2021
Budget Work Continues, Middle College and Bond Legislation Advances
Today is the 109th day of the Legislative Session. Lawmakers have less than three weeks to complete their work and meet the constitutional 121-day limit for regular sessions of the Legislature.
Budget Discussions Continue
Legislators continued discussions on the budget this week, with the House seeking to find common ground in an effort to pass the FY22 Operating Budget. After floor debate on the appropriations bill stalled, the House sent the budget back to the House Rules Committee for additional negotiation and future rescheduling on the floor. In the meantime, the Senate Finance Committee has begun to reveal its proposed version of the budget and will be considering amendments proposed by committee members. The differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget will eventually be bridged via a conference committee. Big decisions still remain around the FY22 spending plan, including the Capital Budget, federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act and the PFD.
Bond Bank Legislation Passes House
The House passed legislation to expand financing options available to the University of Alaska. House Bill 127, sponsored by Representative Bart LeBon (R-Fairbanks), gives the university access to the Alaska Municipal Bond Bank Authority’s strong credit ratings. This provides the opportunity to borrow or refinance debt obligations at lower interest rates, helping UA save money. The bill also raises the cap for UA bond financing. HB 127 has been transmitted to the Senate and we look forward to seeing this bill advance in the legislative process.
Middle College Expansion Bill Advances
The House Education Committee has advanced legislation to grow higher education dual-enrollment programs. Senate Bill 32 expands UA’s middle college programs to provide high school students the opportunity to take classes from the University of Alaska. These innovative programs enable students to earn both high school and college credit. UA currently operates voluntary middle college programs in partnership with schools in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Kenai Peninsula College and Mat-Su. SB 32 will be heard in the House State Affairs Committee next Tuesday, May 11, at 3 p.m.
University Leadership Briefs Congressman Young
Alaska Congressman Don Young visited the UAF campus on May 6 to meet with university leadership on a variety of federal issues. UA Interim President Pat Pitney and UAF Chancellor Dan White briefed the Congressman on ways to enhance forecasting and response to forest fires.
Our university has taken a statewide leadership role when it comes to emergency services and preparedness. UAF’s Fire Science Program and their Summer Fire Academy, excels at training firefighters to serve federal, state and local agencies. The Congressman met university first-responders, and heard how federal investment can help improve firefighting capabilities across Alaska. Federal support can strengthen firefighting response, and provide the type of facilities needed to train professional first-responders.
The meeting also included a discussion about the proposed Troth Yeddha’ Indigenous Studies Center and Legacy Park, as well as the Kuskokwim Health Sciences Facility. Thank you to UAF Interim Vice Chancellor Rural Community & Native Education Charlene Stern for presenting the benefit these projects would bring to our university and all Alaska.
We appreciate Congressman Young coming to campus and his support for our university. His visit is an important step as we work to secure funding and legislative support for these vital aspects of our university’s mission. UA Leadership will continue the conversation with the Congressman, and Alaska Congressional Delegation, and about how federal funding and partnership with the University of Alaska can create new opportunities and solutions for our state.
May 4, 2021
House Passes TVEP Renewal, Debates Operating Budget
Today is the 106th day of the Legislative Session. Lawmakers are working against a deadline of May 19 to meet the constitutional 121-day limit for regular sessions of the Legislature. If this does not occur, there are three options by which lawmakers could conclude their work.
Alaska’s Constitution provides lawmakers an option to extend the session by up to 10 days through a two-thirds vote of each legislative body. Alternatively, with the support of two-thirds of the entire Legislature (40 of 60), lawmakers could simply adjourn the regular session and call themselves back into a 30-day special session. Finally, Governor Dunleavy could call the Legislature into a 30-day special session and limit the topics on the table for discussion.
With big decisions still remaining –– the FY22 budget, federal relief funding, and the PFD –– the session is expected to go down to the wire and there is an accelerated pace around the Capitol.
Operating Budget On The House Floor
House legislators worked through the weekend in an attempt to pass the FY22 Operating
and Mental Health Budgets –– HB 69 and HB 71. Debate began on Friday and continued into Saturday with consideration of amendments
– 70 of which were proposed by members of the House Minority.
The House remains closely divided as a body, which has complicated passage of the budget. The 21-member majority caucus is comprised of 15 Democrats, two Republicans and four independents. On the opposite side is an 18-member Republican minority caucus. Representative Sara Rasmussen (R-Anchorage) serves on the House Finance Committee but has not joined either caucus. These slim margins mean that legislators on both sides of the aisle are potential swing votes. This was evident by passage of several budget amendments offered by the minority on Saturday.
On Sunday, a procedural motion to continue consideration of amendments failed by a vote of 20-20. This effectively closed off debate and ended consideration of dozens of proposed amendments, sparking concern among several members, and ultimately raising questions of whether House leadership had the votes to pass the budget. As a procedural move, the budget was sent back to the House Rules Committee to allow for additional negotiation and future rescheduling on the floor. Once the House passes the budget, the Senate will make changes to reflect its position. The bill will eventually be finalized by a conference committee to reconcile the differences.
While occasional and unforeseen delays are common at this stage of the legislative process, the bare minimum majority existing in the House certainly complicates finalizing the FY22 spending plan. Contentious issues such as the size of this year’s PFD and the appropriation of more than $1 billion in federal funds through the American Rescue Plan Act, remain unresolved.
UA Senate Subcommittee Closeout
Senate Operating Budget Subcommittees are closing out their work and consideration of agency budgets. The university’s subcommittee recommended $267 million in unrestricted general funds (UGF). This constitutes a $10 million, rather than $20 million, drop from current year levels, and $60 million below FY19. The subcommittee has proposed adding $10 million to the university’s base operating budget and splitting UA’s funding into two separate appropriations - $214.5 million for UAA, UAF and the System Office; and $52.5 million for UAS and our community campuses. Thank you to Subcommittee Chair Senator Lyman Hoffman and Finance Co-Chair Senator Bert Stedman for their support. You can view the subcommittee closeout report here.
Governor Signs Emergency Declaration Bill, Ends Emergency Order
Last week Governor Dunleavy signed legislation that retroactively extended the State of Alaska’s COVID-19 emergency declaration. This issue has been hotly debated by lawmakers during the past several weeks. The legislation was needed to ensure Alaska remained eligible for federal funding, such as food assistance benefits for low-income Alaskans, which can only be received under an emergency declaration. Immediately after signing the legislation, House Bill 76, Governor Dunleavy issued a declaration calling an end to the pandemic emergency. Subsequently, the Alaska Department of Health & Social Services issued a more limited order preserving the state’s eligibility and basic safeguards.
TVEP Passes House, Heard in Senate Finance
Last Wednesday, the House passed legislation that helps sustain UA’s workforce development programs. House Bill 100 reauthorizes the Technical Vocational Education Program (TVEP) for three years. This program brings in more than $5 million to UA each year for career and technical education programs. The bill received broad support in passing the House 36-4, and has already received quick consideration by the Senate Finance Committee. Thank you to Representative Adam Wool for sponsoring this legislation and helping champion continued workforce development. You can view the House Floor debate here, and the Senate Finance Committee hearing here.
Senator Sullivan Visits Capitol
U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan was in Juneau this week to provide an address to a joint session of the Legislature. His speech highlighted opportunities in the Arctic and putting Alaska’s best minds to work in the area of research. The Senator discussed expanding the Coast Guard’s capabilities in Alaska, and the recent accomplishment of having the NOAA research ship Fairweather home-ported in Alaska. He touted Alaska as central to national energy policy, with a specific nod to microgrid research. The address also paid tribute to former legislator and UA regent Hugh “Bud” Fate. You can view the Senator’s speech here.
Teacher Report Presented to Senate
Yesterday, the Senate Education Committee heard a presentation on the University of Alaska’s work in the area of teacher recruitment, training and retention. UA Vice President Paul Layer and Executive Dean Steve Atwater presented the biannual report to Senators detailing how our university’s works to grow the ranks of K-12 educators in Alaska. The hearing provided a great discussion about the challenges in recruiting and retaining educators, and the millions it costs school districts annually. You can view the hearing here.
April 23, 2021
Federal COVID-19 Funding, UA Land Grant Support Unanimous
Today is the 95th day of the Legislative Session. While Sunday marked the statutory deadline for the Legislature to conclude its business, it has been clear for weeks that more time is needed and that session would not be done in 90 days. The Constitution of the State of Alaska limits legislative sessions to 121 days. Legislators now have until May 19 to pass a budget and finish their work without calling a special session.
Federal Spending Proposal Introduced
Governor Dunleavy has released his proposal to the Legislature regarding appropriation of the $1.5 billion coming to the State of Alaska as part of the federal American Rescue Plan Act. Last year’s truncated session due to COVID-19 saw the Legislature give the administration a large degree of flexibility in how to spend funding from the CARES Act and other federal response measures. Lawmakers will have a much more active role this time around, and are expected to put their own stamp on how funding will be directed to specific recipients and programs.
Nearly one-third of the federal funding coming to the state is already slated for specific programs. This includes an estimated $40 million for the University of Alaska System, split between covering costs borne by universities during the pandemic and relief grants going directly to students. The Governor’s proposal outlines several potential uses for the remaining funding, including revitalizing Alaska’s tourism industry, aid to small businesses, infrastructure investments, emergency response funding, and existing government services. The details of these appropriations will be filled in by the Legislature in the coming weeks. Lawmakers are also awaiting guidance documents from the U.S. Department of Treasury in May, which will help inform how federal funds may be spent. You can read the Governor’s proposal here, which will be heard in the Senate Finance Committee Monday, April 26, at 9:00 a.m.
Unanimous Support for UA Land Grant
The Alaska Legislature has unanimously passed a measure calling for resolving UA’s land grant deficit. On Monday, the House passed Senate Joint Resolution 8 which urges a joint federal and state solution to create a permanent land endowment for our university. Thank you to Senator Gary Stevens for sponsoring the resolution, Representative Grier Hopkins for carrying the measure on the floor, and all legislators for their support in solving this 100-year-old problem. You can watch the floor debate here.
TVEP Bill Advances
The House Finance Committee has passed legislation that will help sustain UA’s workforce development programs. House Bill 100 reauthorizes the Technical Vocational Education Program (TVEP), which brings in more than $5 million to UA each year. Thank you to UA alumni, staff, faculty and industry partners for participating in the hearings to support the legislation. The bill now goes to the House Rules Committee for scheduling on the House Floor.
Hearings of Interest
In addition to the House and Senate Finance Committees’ hearings on the FY22 spending plan, here are some hearings we will be monitoring and engaged in next week:
Monday, April 26
8:00 a.m. – House Finance Committee
HB 127 – Muni Bond Bank, UA Loan Bond Limits
8:00 a.m. – House Education Committee
SB 21 – Faculty Regent
HB 164 – Early Education & Literacy Programs
9:00 a.m. – Senate Education Committee
Presentation: “Projecting Alaska’s Educational Needs”
Tuesday, April 27
9:00 a.m. – Senate Finance Committee
SB 10 – Essential Worker Scholarship
Wednesday, April 28
3:15 p.m. – House Labor & Commerce Committee
“A Resolution on Infrastructure and Broadband”
(Pending Introduction and Referral)
April 16, 2021
Career Tech Focus and Land Grant Progress
Today is the 88th day of the Legislative Session. The pace is beginning to accelerate in the State Capitol as legislators consider a variety of bills and budget items. Discussions are continuing on extending the COVID-19 Emergency Declaration, and the use of federal relief funds coming to the state. Your Government Relations Team is actively engaged with lawmakers in both Juneau and Washington D.C. on behalf of our university.
Career Tech Focus in Finance Committees
Workforce development was front and center as a topic of discussion in the Capitol this week. On Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee heard presentations about how the University of Alaska and state agencies are advancing career and technical education in our state. UA Interim President Pat Pitney and Associate Vice President Teri Cothren addressed committee members to discuss how our university is providing job training and empowering Alaskans for new careers through upskilling and reskilling. You can view the presentation here. The House Finance Committee also heard legislation that will help sustain UA’s workforce development programs. House Bill 100 reauthorizes the Technical Vocational Education Program (TVEP), which brings in more than $5 million to UA each year. Thank you to UA alumni, staff, faculty and industry partners for participating in the hearings to demonstrate support for the legislation. We expect the committee to act on HB 100 next week.
Federal Land Grant Bill Introduced
Alaska’s Congressional Delegation introduced federal legislation to fulfill UA’s land grant. The University of Alaska Fiscal Foundation Act will help endow UA with sufficient lands to generate revenues that will help support its students and operations. Currently UA has one of the smallest land endowments of any major public institution of higher education. The legislation will help resolve this longstanding issue through a state and federal program partnership, bestowing land from the State of Alaska’s outstanding statehood lands entitlement. Thank you to Senator Lisa Murkowski, Senator Dan Sullivan and Congressman Don Young for introducing this legislation. We look forward to working with our Alaska delegation to advance this issue in both Congress and the State Capitol.
Education Bills on the Move
Things move fast in the latter half of the legislative session. In addition to the House Finance Committee’s work on the budget there are numerous committee hearings and bills we will be monitoring this week.
Monday, April 19
8:00 a.m. – House Education Committee
SB 32 – Middle College
HB 132 – School Apprenticeship; Tax Credits
9:00 a.m. – Senate Education Committee
SB 94 – Education & Supplemental Loan Programs
9:00 a.m. – Senate Finance Committee
SB 55 – Employer Contribution to PERS
3:15 p.m. – House Labor & Commerce
HB 75 – Employer Contribution to PERS
Tuesday, April 20
9:00 a.m. – House Finance Committee
HB 100 – TVEP Reauthorization
9:00 a.m. – Senate Finance Committee
SB 10 – Essential Worker Scholarship
3:00 p.m. – House Health & Social Services Committee
HB 133 – AK Ed Savings Program Eligibility
Wednesday, April 21
8:00 a.m. – House Education Committee
Regent Jepsen Confirmation Hearing
Thursday, April 22
11:00 a.m. – House Arctic Policy, Econ, Tourism Committee
Presentation – Sanitation in Rural Alaska
Featuring Dr. Aaron Dotson, UAA
11:30 a.m. – House Ways & Means Committee
Presentation – Economic Impact of Fiscal Solutions
Featuring UAA ISER
3:00 p.m. – House Health & Social Services Committee
HB 133 – AK Ed Savings Program Eligibility
Friday, April 23
8:00 a.m. – House Education Committee
HB 114 – Education & Supplemental Loan Programs
April 9, 2021
Regent Confirmations and bills on the move
Today is the 81st day of the Legislative Session. Lawmakers are holding hearings and public testimony on the FY22 budget, including a spending plan for potential federal funds coming to the state in response to the COVID-19 pandemic response.
Thank you to everyone who submitted public testimony to the House Finance Committee during their deliberations this week. Your voice is an essential part of the public process and building support for our university. Special thanks also to Tom Brice and everyone from UA’s Alumni Associations for participating in public testimony for UA issues!
Senate Passes UA Legislation
The Senate has unanimously passed two bills related to the University of Alaska. Senate Bill 32 expands UA’s existing middle college programs to every school district in Alaska. Senate Bill 36 establishes a bi-annual reporting requirement of the Board of Regents for program and institutional accreditation. Both bills have been referred to the House Education Committee. You can watch the Senate floor debate here.
UA Busy in Committee Hearings
University staff were active in the Capitol this week taking part in several legislative committee hearings. Mark Billingsley of UAF Center ICE presented to house lawmakers about the university’s efforts to commercialize research and intellectual property into start-up business. The House Resources Committee heard a presentation on Senate Joint Resolution 8 in support of fulfilling the UA Land Endowment. On Thursday, Teri Cothren, Associate Vice President of Workforce Development, briefed the Senate Finance Committee about how UA can provide job training to re-skill and up-skill Alaskan workers in support of Senate Bill 10. Thank you to all our staff and faculty who help showcase our university to policymakers.
Career Tech Legislation on the Move
The House Finance Committee has scheduled two hearings next week on legislation that will help sustain UA’s workforce development programs. House Bill 100 by Representative Adam Wool reauthorizes the Technical Vocational Education Program (TVEP). The program uses a portion of employee unemployment insurance contributions to fund high-demand career and technical education programs. It brings in more than $5 million to UA each year, but is scheduled to sunset at the end of this fiscal year. Thank you to UA alumni, staff, faculty and industry partners who continue voice their support for the legislation. HB 100 will be heard on Wednesday, April 14, at 9 a.m. for a presentation of the bill. The committee will then bring it up again on Friday, April 16 at 9 a.m. for public testimony.
University Board of Regents Confirmation Hearing
Scott Jepsen appeared before the Senate Education committee today for his confirmation hearing to join the UA Board of Regents. Senators asked about his vision for the UA System, as well as their background in higher education and public service. Jepsen will have a further confirmation hearing in the House before his nomination, along with Ralph Seekins and Dale Anderson, is forwarded to a joint session of the Legislature later this session. You can view the hearing here.
March 26, 2021
Subcommittee closeout, UA land grant action and a new Regent
Today is the 67th day of the Legislative Session, and wraps up another busy week in the Capitol for the University of Alaska, including budgetary discussions and a new appointment to the Board of Regents.
House Budget Subcommittee Closes Out
The House Finance UA Budget Subcommittee concluded its work this afternoon. The subcommittee recommended a spending plan consistent with the 3-year budget compact of $257 million unrestricted general funds (UGF). This constitutes $20 million below current year levels, and $70 million below FY19. The subcommittee also added $15.7 million in relief funding to help cover losses UA has sustained during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you to Representative Adam Wool and subcommittee members for this strong vote of confidence in our university.
Unanimous Senate Support for UA Land Grant
On Monday, the Senate showed strong support for resolving UA’s land grant deficit by unanimously passing Senate Joint Resolution 8. The resolution by Senator Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak), urges a joint federal and state solution to create a permanent land endowment for our university. We appreciate the Senate’s support for solving this 100-year-old problem, and look forward to having the resolution brought up in the House Resources Committee this session.
Jepsen Appointed as Regent, Confirmations Continue
Governor Dunleavy has appointed Scott Jepsen of Anchorage to the UA Board of Regents. Jepsen is a former oil and gas industry executive with ConocoPhillips Alaska, and served on the UA Foundation Board of Directors for nine years. Next Wednesday at 8 a.m., the Governor’s other BOR appointees, Ralph Seekins and Dale Anderson, will appear before the House Education Committee for their second confirmation hearings.
Senate Finance Reviews UA Legislation
The Senate Finance Committee has been busy considering two bills related to the university. Senate Bill 32 expands UA’s existing middle college programs to every school district in Alaska. Senate Bill 36 establishes a bi-annual reporting requirement of the Board of Regents for program and institutional accreditation.. The bills were heard by the committee on Monday, and will be back before the committee on Monday, March 29 at 9 a.m.
Transportation Committee Advances Bond Package
The Senate Transportation Committee passed the General Obligation Infrastructure Bond package (SB 74) out of committee on Tuesday. Senators adopted a committee substitute and smaller version of the bill from Governor Dunleavy’s original proposal. The package would issue bonds for $303 million in infrastructure spending, including $29 million for targeted maintenance projects for university facilities. The House Finance Committee will hold a hearing on the House companion bill of the Governor’s proposal, HB 93, on Tuesday March 30th at 1:30 p.m.
Passing of an Alaskan Leader
Former lawmaker Gail Phillips passed away this week. Phillips represented Homer in the House for a decade, including serving two terms as speaker from 1995-1998. She was known for her tremendous energy, and her outspokenness in standing up for the rights of all people. Her lifetime of service began in her youth as a student leader at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She would later also serve as a member of the University of Alaska College of Fellows, as well as the chair of the Kenai Peninsula College Council. Phillips served on the Homer City Council and Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly. She also gave freely of her time as an active volunteer with the Iditarod, a member of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, and chaired the Alaska 50th Anniversary Celebration Commission. She was elected to the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame, and UAF recognized her as a distinguished alumnus in 2013. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family.
Did You Know?
Along with classic works by Machetanz and Laurence, student art has been a highlight in the Capitol Building since 1988. The Legislature frequently displays artwork from K-12 students across Alaska, showcasing students’ varied techniques and diverse experiences.
March 19, 2021
Subcommittee Action, Budget Testimony and Bills on the Move
Today is the 60th day of the Legislative Session, and wraps up two very busy weeks in the Capitol for the University of Alaska.
Budget Process Continues in House and Senate
Lawmakers are continuing their review and consideration of FY22 appropriation bills. Throughout the week, the Senate Finance Committee held statewide public testimony on the Capital and Operating budgets. Thank you to all the UA alumni, students, staff and faculty who called in to voice their support for university funding.
Earlier today, the House Finance UA Budget Subcommittee convened to take action on the Governor’s proposed budget, as well as amendments from legislators. The subcommittee, chaired by Representative Adam Wool (D-Fairbanks), adopted an amendment adding $15.7 million in unrestricted general funds to UA’s FY22 Operating Budget by a vote of 6-5. This additional funding will be further discussed by the full House Finance Committee during the next two weeks as subcommittees finalize their agency budget recommendations. Thank you to Representative Wool and subcommittee members for this strong vote of confidence in our university. You can view the hearing here.
This show of support by the subcommittee comes on top of last Friday’s hearing on university research and UA’s community campus system. Thank you to Dr. Bradley Moran of UAF CFOS, Dr. Hajo Eicken and Dr. Nettie Labelle-Hamer of UAF Geophysical Institute, Dr. Charlene Stern of UAF CRCD, and Director Jacelyn Keys of UAA Kodiak College for a great set of presentations. You can view the hearing here.
House Committee Advances Career Tech Legislation
The House Labor & Commerce Committee has advanced legislation that will help sustain UA’s workforce development programs. House Bill 100 by Representative Adam Wool reauthorizes the Technical Vocational Education Program (TVEP). Associate Vice President for Workforce Development, Teri Cothren, provided in-depth testimony in support of the bill and its benefits for UA. Thank you also to UA alumni, staff, faculty and industry partners who called in to voice their support for the legislation. HB 100 will be heard next in the House Finance Committee.
Transportation Committee Debates General Obligation Bond Package
Next Tuesday, the Senate Transportation Committee will continue debating amendments to Governor Dunleavy’s G.O. Infrastructure Bond package (SB 74). The proposal includes $29 million for targeted maintenance projects at university facilities. However, Senator Mike Shower (R-Wasilla) has proposed an amendment removing the UAA portion of the bond package. This amendment will be debated in committee next week. Thank you to Christopher McConnell, Kim Mahoney and all UA facilities staff for their continued work advocating and informing senators on these important projects.
Senate Education Forwards UA Legislation
On Wednesday, the Senate Education Committee advanced two bills related to the university. Senate Bill 32 expands UA’s existing middle college programs to every school district in Alaska. Middle colleges provide high school students the opportunity to take university classes, earning both high school and college credit. Senate Bill 36 establishes a bi-annual reporting requirement for program and institutional accreditation in the UA System. The bills have been scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee on Monday, March 22 at 9:00 a.m. During Wednesday’s meeting, the committee heard a presentation by Teri Cothren, Associate Vice President for Workforce Development, in support of Senate Bill 10 on reskilling and upskilling Alaskan workers.
Alaska Aerospace Day at the Capitol
University researchers were featured front and center this week in the Capitol. At the invitation of Lt. Governor Kevin Meyer, UAF participated in Alaska Aerospace Day. Dr. Bob McCoy, Director of the Geophysical Institute, and Dr. Cathy Cahill, Director of the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aerial Systems Integration (ACUASI), gave detailed briefings to the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee. Their presentations followed special introductions by Lt. Governor Meyer emphasizing the value of university research, and showcased the work of ACUASI and the Poker Flat Research Range. You can view the presentations here.
Land Grant Resolutions Moves Forward
The Senate Resources Committee advanced Senate Joint Resolution 8 on Monday calling for a solution to UA's land grant deficit. The resolution by Senator Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak), seeks a joint federal and state solution to create a permanent land endowment for our university. Although UA is a land grant institution, it has not received its full land entitlement and is due approximately 360,000 acres. Resolving this issue is vital to sustaining the university for years into the future. We appreciate lawmakers’ willingness to bring awareness to this 100-year old problem, and look forward to working with them to move this resolution through the legislature.
March 5, 2021
Budget Hearings, G.O. Bond and bills of interest
Today is the 46th day of the Legislative session. While Thursday marked the mid-point of the regular session, a great deal of work lies ahead for lawmakers. Alaska Statute calls for a 90-day regular legislative session, but the Constitution of the State of Alaska provides for a 120-day session. Lawmakers have often fallen back on the 120-day session for completing their work.
University House Budget Subcommittee Convenes
UA Interim President Pat Pitney presented to the university’s House Finance Subcommittee today. Lawmakers convened as a committee of the whole chaired by Representative Adam Wool (D-Fairbanks) to hear an overview of UA’s FY 22 Operating Budget. The President briefed lawmakers on UA’s strategic goals and legislative priorities, and talked about the important role the university has in the state’s economy. Consideration of the Operating Budget will continue for the next several weeks as the subcommittee process continues. Next Friday, March 12, the subcommittee will hear a presentation on university research, as well as information about UA’s community campus system. You can view the House Finance Subcommittee hearing here.
G.O. Bond Hearings
Next week, the Senate Transportation Committee will continue its review of Governor Dunleavy’s G.O. Infrastructure Bond package (SB 74). If enacted by the Legislature and approved by voters following the 2021 legislative session, more than $356 million in bonds would be issued to improve transportation, education, recreation, and communications systems throughout the state. SB 74 includes $29 million for targeted maintenance projects at university facilities. Thank you to Cameron Wohlford, Christopher McConnell and Nathan Leigh for their continued work to help senators understand these important and needed improvements.
Senate Education to Hear UA-Related Bills
Next Monday, the Senate Education Committee will hear two bills of interest to the University of Alaska. Senate Bill 32 expands UA’s existing middle college programs to every school district in Alaska. Middle colleges provide high school students the opportunity to take classes from the University of Alaska, earning both high school and college credit. UA currently operates voluntary middle college programs in partnership with schools in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Kenai Peninsula College and Mat-Su. The committee also will hear Senate Bill 36, which establishes a reporting requirement on the subject of UA systemwide accreditation in state law, and calls for the university to present reports to the legislature semi-annually.
Passing of Alaska Leaders
Alaska lost three respected leaders this week with the passing of Mike Bradner, Pat Carney and John Sackett, all of whom served in the Legislature.
Mike Bradner represented Fairbanks in the House for a decade, including serving a term as speaker. His tenure in the Legislature included highlights such as creation of the Alaska Permanent Fund, municipal revenue sharing, and the state’s petroleum tax. An alumnus of the University of Alaska, Bradner was a journalist for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. After retiring from elected office, he became a Capitol fixture as author of the subscription newsletter Legislative Digest and Alaska Economic Report with his brother Tim Bradner. The two also hosted interviews with legislators and policymakers on Gavel Alaska’s program Capitol Views. His outgoing presence in the Capitol will be missed.
Pat Carney served in the Legislature in the early 80’s and 90’s representing the Mat-Su Valley. A dairy farmer and UA alumnus, he was well respected in the Capitol and known for having a great deal of integrity and a lot of class.
John Sackett’s lifetime of service to Alaska spanned decades. At age 21 in 1966, Sackett became the youngest person ever elected to the Alaska Legislature. He spent 18 of the next 20 years representing rural Alaska in the Capitol in both the House and Senate. Sackett also was the youngest person elected President of the Tanana Chiefs Conference. As a UAF student, Sackett recalled a day when he skipped a class and went to listen to a discussion about the land claims issue. His advocacy and leadership helped further passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. He was the founding president of Doyon Ltd, and served on the UA Board of Regents. The university presented Sackett with an honorary doctorate in 2013, and Sackett Hall at UAF’s Kuskokwim Campus is named to celebrate his legacy.
Did You Know?
Alaska’s Capitol Building does not have a dome like many traditional state capitols. When constructed in 1931 it served as the territorial federal building for Alaska, housing courtrooms, a post office, and a museum. Twenty eight years later, the building was gifted to the new State of Alaska and it has served as the seat of state government ever since.
February 26, 2021
Budget Hearings and Regent Confirmations
Today is the 39th day of the legislative session. Work in the State Capitol hit a
speed bump late Wednesday afternoon, with the announcement that Representative Mike
Cronk (R-Tok) had tested positive for COVID-19. The House subsequently suspended all
proceedings until next week. Governor Dunleavy’s office announced that he also has
tested positive for COVID-19 and is isolating at his home in Mat-Su.
Rep. Cronk’s case marks the first positive COVID case in the Capitol since lawmakers convened in January. The Legislature has established strict access rules whereby Legislators and staff must undergo COVID-19 testing twice a week, as well as temperature screenings upon entering the Capitol. Your UA Government Relations Team also follows this protocol. We wish the Governor and Rep. Cronk a quick and full recovery.
Committees Work Continues, House Announces Budget Subcommittees
The House and Senate Finance Committees were busy this week wading into the challenging
fiscal issues facing lawmakers. Committee members in the House began with overviews
on state revenue and oil production, as well analysis of the Governor’s FY22 Budget.
The House has announced that UA’s Operating Budget Subcommittee will be a committee
of the whole chaired by Representative Adam Wool (D-Fairbanks). The subcommittee will
hold an overview on the university’s budget on Friday, March 5 at 1:30 p.m.
The Senate Finance Committee continued its work by taking a deep-dive review on school construction and statewide deferred maintenance. On Tuesday, State Relations Director Chad Hutchison, along with facilities staff from all three universities, participated in a hearing featuring an in-depth discussion on the UA System’s facility maintenance needs. The university currently has a backlog of more than $1.3 billion in deferred maintenance systemwide. The UA Board of Regents has requested $50 million in funding in the FY22 Capital Budget to help address the backlog. Senators were keen to hear details of the university’s Capital Budget request, and asked several questions about UA facility needs. Thank you to Cameron Wohlford, Christopher McConnell and Nathan Leigh for helping brief senators on this important issue. You can view the Senate Finance Committee hearing here.
Next Tuesday at 1:30 p.m., the Senate Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on Governor Dunleavy’s G.O. Infrastructure Bond package (SB 74). The proposal includes $29 million for targeted maintenance projects at university facilities.
President Pitney Delivers State of University Address
UA Interim President Pitney presented the annual State of the University address on Wednesday, Feb. 24. The speech was delivered as part of the Commonwealth North speaker series, and was broadcast in the Capitol via the Gavel-to-Gavel network. In her address, President Pitney shared her vision for higher education in Alaska and the UA System’s journey during the past year. She highlighted success stories across the UA System, and the many ways the university supports the state's economy. The president said state funding is key to creating stability and building confidence among students. She called on all Alaskans to support higher education and the university, The address also detailed recent UA enrollment numbers, the upcoming launch of the university’s philanthropic campaign, efforts to fulfill UA’s land grant, and the critical role university research plays in moving Alaska forward. You can view the speech here.
Representative David Nelson Visits UAS campus
The University of Alaska Southeast (UAS) welcomed Representative David Nelson (R-Anchorage) to campus on Tuesday for a familiarization tour. The representative is an alumnus of our university (UAA ’18), and expressed an interest in visiting UAS after meeting with President Pat Pitney. The tour highlighted UAS’ partnerships with the Alaska National Guard at the Gamble-Sperl Joint Use Facility, which serves as Juneau’s armory and the campus rec center. Rep. Nelson met students participating in a U.S. Coast Guard pre-commissioning scholarship program, which provides UAS students financial aid and a fast-track to service in USCG. The tour also featured a discussion about UAS business partnerships, as well as a visit to the Egan Library and the fisheries labs. Engaging with legislators is very important. Showcasing our campuses and students is a great way to grow support for our university amongst policymakers. Thank you to Chancellor Karen Carey, Brittni Wisner, Deborah Rydman, and the team at UAS for organizing a great campus visit.
University Board of Regents Confirmation Hearings
UA Regents Ralph Seekins and Dale Anderson appeared before the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 24 for their confirmation hearings. Senators asked the regents about their vision for the UA System, as well as their background in higher education and public service. Both regents will have a further confirmation hearing before the House Education Committee before their nominations are forwarded to a joint session of the Legislature later this session. You can view the hearing here.
Passing of Two Alaska Leaders
Alaska lost two venerable leaders this week with the passing of Hugh “Bud” Fate and Katie Hurley.
Fate, a former legislator and UA Regent, is remembered for numerous contributions and service to the people of Alaska. His life and career took Fate from Alaska’s north slope, to surveying the ALCAN Highway during service in the U.S. Army, and to the halls of the State Capitol. His commitment to public service was shared with his wife of more than 65 years, Mary Jane Fate. A longtime Fairbanks resident, he provided health care to Interior villages as both a dentist and bush pilot. Fate served as chair of the UA Board of Regents and as a trustee of the UA Foundation. He was president of Alaska Dental Association, and served on the State Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and the Local Boundary Commission. Fate received an Honorary Doctorate of Public Service from the University of Alaska in 1988. You can see a tribute to Fate by U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan here.
Katie Hurley’s civic commitment to Alaska spanned more than half a century. A devoted public servant, she was at the forefront during Alaska’s formative Territorial and Statehood era. She worked as an assistant to Territorial Governor Ernest Gruening, Chief Clerk to Alaska Constitutional Convention, as well as Secretary of both the Territorial and State Senate. Alaskans elected her to the Legislature (1985-87), and she would later serve as chair of the State Board of Education and executive director of the Alaska Women’s Commission.
Our thoughts and prayers are with both families.
Did You Know?
The Legislature offers a program allowing you to receive updates on legislation via text. For current information on the status of a bill or resolution, text the bill number to 1-555-245-2529. A status update will be sent to your mobile device courtesy of the Legislative Information Office.
February 19, 2021
House Organizes and Gets to Work
It has been an eventful week in the State Capitol. The House of Representatives organized, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski visited with lawmakers and press, Chief Justice Bolger delivered his State of the Judiciary Address, and the Senate Finance Committee finished its review of UA’s operating budget. In case you missed it, be sure to also give a listen to UA Interim President Pat Pitney’s recent podcast with blogger Jeff Landfield.
House Organizes Caucuses and Committees
After 31 days into the 90-day legislative session, the organizational logjam in the Alaska House of Representatives has broken -- at least for now. On Thursday, the House finalized its leadership and committee organization and publicly noticed hearings to begin work next week. While Rep. Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak) was elected as Speaker on Feb. 11, full organization came together slowly through behind the scenes negotiations by lawmakers. Finally, a 20-member caucus of Democrats and Republicans emerged and was able to secure the necessary votes to organize Representatives’ positions in the House.
The coalition was made possible by Rep. Kelly Merrick (R-Eagle River), who voted for Rep. Stutes as Speaker and will take a leadership role chairing the Capital Budget and legislation for the House Finance Committee. Rep. Sara Rasmussen (R-Anchorage) also voted to approve the slate of committee assignments, but has announced that she will not be joining either the Democrat-led majority nor the Republican minority caucus. As a swing vote, Rep. Rasmussen will also serve on the Finance Committee. In addition to Reps. Stutes and Merrick, other House leadership assignments include:
Rep. Bryce Edgmon (I-Dillingham) – Rules Chair
Rep. Neal Foster (D-Nome) – Finance Co-Chair, Operating Budget
Rep. Chris Tuck (D-Anchorage) – Majority Leader
Rep. Matt Claman (D-Anchorage) – Majority Whip
House organization was further complicated during the week by dissent from Rep. Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage), who has not committed to join the Democratic caucus. The current status leaves the House with a majority caucus of 20-members, an 18-member Republican minority, and two legislators not committed to either partisan caucus. Such narrow margins will make committee work and floor votes hotly contested throughout the session.
UA Senate Subcommittee Concludes its Work
The Senate Finance Committee concluded its review of UA’s FY22 Operating Budget this week. UA Interim President Pat Pitney presented to the committee, convened as a subcommittee of the whole, to brief lawmakers on UA’s strategic goals, legislative priorities, and the important role the university has in the state’s economy.
During the hearing, Co-Chair Senator Bert Stedman complimented President Pitney on her presentation, and applauded the University of Alaska for leading by example and making tough decisions in the face of difficult budget cuts. UA’s operating budget is set at $257 million unrestricted general funds (UGF), $20 million below current year levels, and $70 million below FY19. This amount is consistent with the Board of Regents budget request and the 3-year budget compact signed with Governor Dunleavy in August of 2019.
The FY22 Operating Budget will remain under further consideration by the Senate Finance Committee, and we expect the House to start its own subcommittee process during the next two weeks. You can view the Senate Finance Subcommittee hearing here.
UA Interns Meet Legislators and Alumni
Earlier today, the University of Alaska Southeast hosted a virtual meet and greet for legislators and students participating in the Senator Ted Stevens Legislative Internship Program. The event highlighted the important role that interns have in the Capitol, and the important service they provide legislators and their staffs. For more than 30 years, University of Alaska students have worked as interns during the legislative session. It is a great opportunity for students in any academic program, and the students gain valuable experience while earning college credit. Thank you to UAS Chancellor Karen Carey, Kathryn Portelli and their team for organizing a great event!
Land Grant Resolution Advances
A legislative resolution calling for a solution to UA's Land Grant Deficit passed the Senate Education Committee this week. Senate Joint Resolution 8 by Sen. Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak), seeks a joint federal and state solution to create a permanent land endowment for our university. Although UA is a land grant institution, it has not received its full land entitlement and is due approximately 360,000 acres. Resolving this issue is vital for the university’s future. We appreciate Senators’ willingness to bring awareness to this 100-year-old problem, and look forward to working with them to move this resolution through the Legislature. You can watch the hearing here.
Career and Technical Education Legislation Introduced
Legislation has been introduced that will help sustain UA’s workforce development programs. House Bill 100 by Representative Adam Wool reauthorizes the Technical Vocational Education Program (TVEP). The program uses a portion of employee unemployment insurance contributions to fund high-demand career and technical education programs. It brings in more than $5 million to UA each year, but is scheduled to sunset at the end of this fiscal year. We are grateful to Rep. Wool for championing this issue, and will be working with legislators to move this bill through the process.
UA Regents Confirmation Hearing
Governor Dunleavy has appointed Ralph Seekins and Dale Anderson to the UA Board of Regents. Next Wednesday at 9:00 a.m. the Senate Education Committees will be holding confirmation hearings for these two individuals.
Did You Know?
Alaska has its own Liberty Bell! In front of the State Capitol is a replica of the Liberty Bell gifted to Alaska in 1950. A similar replica was given to every state and territory as part of a promotional campaign for U.S. Savings Bonds. The bell was famously rung 49 times on July 1, 1958 in celebration of the passage of the Alaska Statehood Act.
February 12, 2021
UA Actively Engaged at Capitol
Today is the 25th day of the Legislative Session. After three and a half weeks, the state House
of Representatives took another step towards organization on Thursday in electing
Representative Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak) to serve as Speaker of the House.
Stutes, a Republican, has previously caucused with Democrats in forming a bipartisan majority in the House. Earlier this session she signaled her intention to do so again during the 32nd Alaska Legislature. The House has been split 20-20 between Republicans and Democrats, independents and Rep. Stutes. This divide has stymied the organization process which would allow House lawmakers to begin their work. The surprise break in the gridlock came when Representative Kelly Merrick (R-Eagle River) gave Stutes the necessary vote to be elected Speaker by a vote of 21-19. Despite this show of support, Rep. Merrick has announced that she has not joined the Democrat-led caucus. This means that while a Speaker has been elected, the House remains divided without a majority to govern. We expect this situation to evolve further in the coming days.
President Pitney Meets with Legislators
UA Interim President Pat Pitney was active in the Capitol this week meeting with lawmakers and presenting to UA’s Senate Finance Subcommittee. The President briefed lawmakers on UA’s strategic goals and legislative priorities, and talked about the important role the university has in the state’s economy. She also met with several freshman legislators who are alumni, and discussed how UA programs and research help move our state forward. President Pitney will be back before Senate Finance on Tuesday at 9 a.m. to continue her presentation to lawmakers. You can view the Senate Finance Subcommittee here.
UA Alumni Virtual Fly-In
This week UA’s three alumni associations held a virtual fly-in with legislators. They maintained a busy schedule of legislative meetings. Alumni met with more than 40 legislators and staff communicating UA’s value, telling personal stories and advocating on UA’s behalf. Alumni interest and enthusiasm is incredibly impactful and a valuable part of the legislative process. Thank you to the alumni who participated, and to the wonderful staff for helping plan and coordinate this year’s event.
Did You Know?
This Sunday marks the anniversary of the signing of the Alaska Anti-Discrimination Act. The act, championed by Elizabeth Peratovich, addressed discrimination in public accommodations and facilities around Alaska. When adopted, the legislation was the first of its kind in the U.S. The act was groundbreaking and paved the way for similar legislation including the federal Civil Rights Act.
February 5, 2021
UA Funding in Governor's Infrastructure Bill
Today is the 18th day of the Legislative session. After two and a half weeks of gridlock, the state House of Representatives took the first step toward organization on Thursday by unanimously electing freshman Representative Josiah Patkotak (I- Utqiagvik) to serve as Speaker Pro Tempore. On Friday, Republicans nominated Rep. Steve Thompson (R-Fairbanks) to serve as Speaker of the House. That vote failed on a caucus-line vote of 20-20.
The absence of a governing majority continues to prevent the House from undertaking any work of substance. Until a majority coalition is formed there is simply no way to perform legislative business. Representatives are still working in temporary offices, with limited staff, and are prevented from introducing legislation or forming committees.
University Projects Included in G.O. Bond Bill
Governor Dunleavy has introduced a $356 million infrastructure bond package including $29.6 million for the University of Alaska. Senate Bill 74 would, subject to a vote of the people, issue general obligation bonds to finance a variety of capital projects to improve transportation, communications and education. Specifically, for the university the bill provides:
- UAF Bartlett and Moore Hall Modernization - $18.65 million
- UAA Building Energy Performance Upgrades - $10.9 million
- UAA Integrated Sciences Building Energy Savings Project - $428,000
The University of Alaska received the second largest allocation of any recipient in the proposed bond package ($29.6M), and we thank Governor Dunleavy for this important step. The legislation has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee, and will be considered as part of the overall budget package as the legislative session continues.
President Pitney Active in the Capitol
UA Interim President Pat Pitney appeared before the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday, briefing lawmakers on UA’s strategic goals and legislative priorities. The presentation addressed a number of topics including the university’s key role in the state’s economy, serving Alaska’s educational needs during COVID-19 and budgetary constraints, as well as research and federal initiatives. Lawmakers questions highlighted the important work university faculty and staff are doing in the areas of unmanned aviation systems, teacher training, and virtual learning. You can view the hearing here.
Next week President Pitney will visit the State Capitol and present to the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday, February 11 at 9 a.m. She will also meet with leaders in the House and Senate to discuss UA legislative priorities. You can learn more about UA legislative priorities here.
Did You Know?
January 29, 2021
State of the State, UA Board of Regents appointments, and COVID-19 relief updates
Today is the 11th day of the Legislative session. Senate committees began their work this week, while lawmakers in the House remained gridlocked over organizing a majority caucus.
Dunleavy Appoints UA Regents
Governor Dunleavy’s office has announced the appointment of former legislator Ralph Seekins, and re-appointed Dale Anderson to the UA Board of Regents.
Seekins is a former state Senator representing Fairbanks from 2003-2006. He is owner and president of the Seekins Ford-Lincoln auto dealership, and was recognized as UAF Business Leader of the Year in 1990. Seekins has served as a member Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation’s Board of Trustees, Alaska Airlines Advisory Board, and is active within the state and local business community.
Regent Anderson has served on the Board of Regents since 2012. A lifelong Juneau resident, Anderson is a senior consultant with Merrill Lynch and owns Auke Lake Bed & Breakfast. He has previously served as a member of the City & Borough of Juneau Assembly, Legislative Aide for the House Finance Committee, and as a Commissioner on the state’s Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission.
Governor Delivers State of State Address
Governor Dunleavy delivered his third State of the State address Thursday night, broadcasting the speech live from his office in Anchorage. It was the first time a governor has given the annual speech outside of the Capitol via video. This is due to both concerns about COVID-19 exposure, as well as the fact that the House of Representatives has not yet organized to conduct state business. The Governor addressed response efforts to the COVID-19 pandemic, state fiscal issues, and lauded the University of Alaska’s work in training essential workers and furthering cutting-edge aviation research.
“The University of Alaska graduated 260 nurses to the pandemic frontlines as well as 400 contact tracers. With the help of the Legislature, many of these nurses were graduated early thanks to nearly 300 regulatory suspensions that took place under the emergency declaration.”
“Just this week, Alaska participated in a trade mission that attracted over 120 investors interested in unmanned aircraft systems. I’ll continue working with the University of Alaska as they cement our position as the nation’s leader in unmanned aircraft research.”
You can watch and read Governor Dunleavy’s speech here.
Senate Education Committee Briefing
Next Wednesday at 9:00 a.m. UA Interim President Pat Pitney will present before the Senate Education Committee. The President will brief lawmakers on how the University of Alaska provides critical contributions to our state, the impact of budget reductions and the need for stable funding for the university. You can learn more about the Senators on the committee, as well as their educational background and policy goals here.
Federal COVID-19 Relief Update
Congressional leaders have signaled their willingness to begin work on the next round of COVID-19 relief funding as early as next week. The foundation for this next package is a $1.9 trillion proposal that was put forward by the Biden campaign earlier this month. The proposal includes $35 billion for the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF), which has been the primary source of funding for COVID-19 relief to higher education. The bill will likely put the newly formed, but unspecified power sharing agreement in the Senate to the test. The higher education advocacy community submitted a letter to House and Senate leaders asking for $97 billion in relief to higher education, with an additional $26 billion for research relief.
Did You Know?
There are more than 130 boards and commissions within state government. Their work ranges from licensing occupations and overseeing the Permanent Fund, to the mission of our own UA Board of Regents.
The Governor appoints Alaskans to serve on boards & commissions, and these nominations must be submitted to the legislature no later than the 15th day of session. Most of these nominations, along with the Governor’s cabinet appointments, are subject to confirmation by a vote of the legislature. The House and Senate considers these nominations both in committees and during a joint-session of the legislature usually held near the end of session.
Do you serve on a state board or advisory committee? Let us know!
January 22, 2021
State Legislature Organization, Federal COVID-19 Relief Updates
Today is the fourth day of the legislative session. The Senate has fully organized,
while the House remains in a 20-20 split over forming a majority coalition. The lack
of organization in the House impedes the overall legislative process, and raises doubts
about how quickly lawmakers will be able to conclude their business in Juneau.
Your Government Relations Team has been very active in the Capitol, meeting with new and returning legislators and their staff. As legislative liaisons for the University of Alaska System we follow strict mask-wearing protocols, and regular COVID-19 testing as part of engaging in the process at the Capitol.
Things move fast in the Legislature. To keep you informed we have refreshed our twitter feed @UA_GovRelations. Follow us for updates on Capitol happenings and other breaking news. In addition, check out our website for bills we’re following and background one-pagers on UA legislative priorities.
Senate Appoints Committee Chairs
The Senate Majority has completed its organization and assigned committee chairs and membership. Senator Lyman Hoffman (D-Bethel) joined Republicans to form a 14-member majority caucus. Hoffman will have a seat on the Senate Finance Committee. In addition to the Senate Leadership and the Finance Committee, the Senate announced the following chairs for standing committees:
- Community & Regional Affairs – Sen. Shelley Hughes (R-Palmer)
- Education – Sen. Roger Holland (R-Anchorage)
- Health & Social Services – Sen. David Wilson (R-Wasilla)
- Judiciary – Sen. Lora Reinbold (R-Eagle River)
- Labor & Commerce – Sen. Mia Costello (R-Anchorage)
- Legislative Budget & Audit – Sen. Natasha von Imhof (R-Anchorage)
- Resources – Sen. Joshua Revak (R-Anchorage)
- State Affairs – Sen. Mike Shower (R-Wasilla)
- Transportation – Sen. Robert Myers (R-North Pole)
In the coming weeks, we will actively engage with committee chairs and their staff
on issues important to the university system. UA Interim President Pitney will meet
with freshman Senators Robert Myers of North Pole, and Roger Holland of Anchorage
who chairs the Senate Education Committee. She will be appearing before the committee
to present how the university provides critical contributions to our state, including
the impact of budget reductions and the need for stable funding for the university.
Next Friday, January 29, at 9 a.m. the Senate Finance Committee will hear an overview on the Governor’s FY22 Budget. We’ll be tuning-in and will discuss the fiscal challenges facing the state in the next Capitol Report.
Federal COVID-19 Relief and Federal Fiscal Year 2022
In late December, Congress passed and the President signed into law the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 (CRRSA). The $2.4 trillion bill includes a COVID-19 supplemental relief measure, Federal FY21 appropriations, and a number of policy measures. Of the total, $1.4 trillion is for the Federal FY21 Omnibus Appropriations that will fund the federal government until September 30, 2021 and $900 billion is for the “Phase IV” COVID-19 relief.
This is a follow-on to the CARES Act passed in March 2020, the “Phase IV” COVID-19 relief package included in the bill has a number of impactful provisions, most notably, $82 billion for a “Education Stabilization Fund” that will provide funding to K-12 and higher education. The bill includes a Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) that provides $22.9 billion, through a formula-driven allocation, to colleges and universities to address the impact of COVID-19 to students and institutions. Additionally, the bill provides $54.3 billion to K-12 and $4.05 billion to governors to allocate at their discretion. Initial estimates for the University of Alaska institutions are near $22 million, with a majority coming from the HEERF. The U.S. Department of Education formerly announced HEERF II funding last week, which University of Alaska institutions are set to receive a total of $17.4 million. Like the CARES Act, there are several other programs through which the university will benefit and we’re awaiting additional announcements in the coming days.
The Federal FY21 Omnibus Appropriations package included in the CRRSA highlighted numerous priorities identified by UA to the Alaska Congressional Delegation. An estimated $52 million in federal funding was included to programs that impact the University of Alaska’s research, education and public services missions. These range from longstanding federal partnerships like EPSCoR, TRiO and Space Grant; to new initiatives working with the military on suicide prevention and the FAA in developing training for the next generation of Alaskan pilots. These successful outcomes were a direct result of work by the Alaska Congressional Delegation and their staff. It is a testament to their effectiveness in Congress.
New Administration and New Congress
As President Biden takes office, the U.S. Senate has yet to work out an agreement on how to manage a 50-50 partisan spilt in the body. Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) is Majority Leader, by virtue of Vice President Kamala Harris becoming Senate President on Tuesday, wielding an effective 51-50 Democratic majority. Beyond Schumer’s ascension to Majority Leader, committee organization has yet to be announced. It is likely a power-sharing agreement will unfold, like what happened in 2001 when the Senate was in a similar situation. Senator Murkowski and Sullivan’s memberships on Senate committees will change, with their titles going from chair to ranking member status. However, with these incredibly thin margins, bipartisanship will be necessary to advance legislation.
Priorities for President Biden’s first 100 days in office are coming into focus. These include the announcement of his American Rescue Plan, a legislative package funding “Vaccinations, Provide Immediate, Direct Relief to Families Bearing the Brunt of the COVID-19 Crisis, and Support Struggling Communities.” Of note, the proposals call for an additional $35 billion in aid to institutions of higher education and students for COVID-19 relief.
Since his first day in office, the President has signed a slew of Executive Orders, including some impacting higher education. One requests the U.S. Department of Education to extend a moratorium on student loan interest and payments until at least September 30. Another ends President Trump’s Executive Order regarding workplace diversity and inclusion training. A few more call for reforms to immigration policies. In the meantime, the Senate advances through the confirmation process for President Biden’s cabinet. Senators Murkowski and Sullivan have and continue to meet with nominees throughout the process and have sought the university’s perspective for pertinent nominees.
January 19, 2021
32nd Alaska Legislature Convenes
Today, state lawmakers gaveled-in to begin the first session of the 32nd Alaska Legislature. Your Government Relations Team is on the ground in Juneau, and
actively engaged working on behalf of the University of Alaska.
There is an excitement in Juneau that accompanies the start of every session, but this year also brings with it a good deal of anxiety. Concerns about COVID-19 exposure are omnipresent. Legislators and their staff are held to strict testing and mask-wearing protocols, and the Capitol complex has been outfitted with screening technology and protective barriers in legislative chambers. Additionally, the House of Representatives has not organized, which creates a great deal of uncertainty.
Our goal with the Capitol Report is keeping the university community informed about legislative issues important to UA. We look forward to providing updates on happenings in the Capitol, legislation moving through the process, UA budget news, and the work being done to advance the University of Alaska’s priorities. We’ll have more information on those topics in the days ahead.
Hutchison Leads UA State Relations
Chad Hutchison has joined UA’s Government Relations Team as Director of State Relations. Chad is a lifelong Fairbanks resident, and received his Bachelor of Business Administration from UAF and law degree from Gonzaga University. A practicing attorney since 2007, he started his career in private practice at the firm Cook, Schuhmann & Groseclose in Fairbanks. He joins the university after serving as counsel to the Alaska State Senate Majority, and brings proven experience with the development and passage of legislation.
Chad succeeds Miles Baker who was appointed in August as Legislative Director for Governor Mike Dunleavy. Miles’ work for UA in Washington D.C. and the State Capitol during the past several years has been invaluable. We thank him for his dedicated service to the university, and look forward to continue working with him to build strong relationships for UA within the executive branch.
New Faces in 32nd Alaska Legislature
The 32nd Alaska Legislature brings many new faces to the Capitol after substantial turnover resulting from last year’s elections. In 2020, several members of legislative leadership were defeated for re-election including the Senate President, House Finance Co-Chair, House Minority Leader and the chairmen of both the House and Senate Rules Committees. That level of change amongst legislators in positions of leadership is unusual, and will alter the dynamic in the Capitol this session. Thirteen freshman lawmakers joined the Legislature today, many of whom have a direct connection to the University of Alaska. You can see these and others on our Alumni in Government page on the UA Government Relations website.
Senate Formed Republican Majority Caucus
The Senate gaveled-in and quickly organized a Republican led majority caucus. Republicans in the Senate hold 13 seats to the Democrats’ seven, but have faced divisions within their caucus about policy direction and leadership roles. These disagreements delayed the organizing of a governing majority after the fall election. The organization announced by Republicans is a non-binding “Caucus of Equals.” This suggests that tough decisions around the state spending and the PFD will not necessarily be decided along caucus or party lines. Senate President Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna) heads the caucus with a leadership team comprised of:
- Sen. Bert Stedman (R-Sitka) - Finance Co-Chair for Operating Budget
- Sen. Click Bishop (R-Fairbanks) - Finance Co-Chair for Capital Budget & Legislation
- Sen. Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak) - Rules Committee Chair
- Sen. Shelley Hughes (R-Palmer) - Majority Leader
- Sen. Mia Costello (R-Anchorage) – Majority Whip
Committee chairs and assignments will likely be announced later this week. Senator Tom Begich (D-Anchorage) will serve as Minority leader of the Democrat caucus.
House Split Over Organization
The House convened without selecting a presiding officer for only the fourth time in state history. The absence of a governing majority prevents the House from undertaking any work of substance. Representatives are working in temporary offices, with limited staff, and without committee assignments. Some brief background is helpful to understand this situation.
Following each election cycle, legislators start a process known inside the Capitol as “organization.” It’s an exercise in coalition building, networking, and at times brinkmanship. Members work to secure support from enough of their colleagues to weave together a majority caucus capable of establishing working control of their respective body.
Caucuses normally form along party lines, but there are exceptions and bipartisan coalitions are not unusual in Alaska. During the previous Legislature, several moderate Republicans joined with Democrats to form a coalition in the House. In prior years, rural Democrats have joined Republican led organizations to help protect their districts’ interests. Coastal legislators have periodically organized with interior legislators to form working majorities aligned less on partisan affiliation, and more around similar policy objectives.
The outcome of the 2020 election has made organizing the House of Representatives especially challenging. House membership is divided with 21 Republicans, 15 Democrats, and four Independents. While Republicans technically hold the majority of seats, policy differences and political alliances have impeded their ability to form a majority. Kodiak Republican Rep. Louise Stutes has announced that she will caucus with the Democrats and Independents who formed the bipartisan coalition during the previous Legislature. Meanwhile, the remaining 20 Republicans are working to put together a Republican-led majority. During today’s floor session, they nominated Representative Bart LeBon (R-Fairbanks) to serve as Speaker Pro Temp. This largely ceremonial position would preside over the House in place of the Lt. Governor while organization in completed. The motion failed on a vote of 20-20.
Why does all this indecision matter? The outcome of these organizational negotiations determines leadership positions, committee membership and sets the policy priorities. Without an organization they can’t elect presiding officers, legislation can’t be introduced, and committees can’t be formed. There is simply no way to perform legislative business. Discussions among lawmakers will be ongoing, but with no promise of a quick resolution. In 2019, it took the House 31 days to organize, which is significant considering it is a 90-day session.
Lawmakers Release Prefiled Legislation
While legislators are still working to organize, many have already been thinking about legislation they will be filing this session. Lawmakers have prefiled more than 100 bills for early consideration. Yes, legislators can introduce bills before they are even sworn into office!
The Legislature’s Uniform Rules, which governs legislative procedure, includes a process known as prefiling. Rule 36 allows legislators to request bills be drafted and submitted for numbering to the Legislature’s Legal Services Division before the first day of session. This is often used by legislators to grab early headlines and stake out positions on policy issues going into session. The prefiled bills include several issues related to the University of Alaska including legislation expanding dual-enrollment programs, the membership of the Board of Regents and expanding scholarship programs. Check out the UA Government Relations website for a full list of Bills We’re Tracking.
In addition to working with lawmakers on legislation, your Government Relations Teams will be strongly advocating for the UA Board of Regents FY22 Operating and Capital Budget request. We will also be working to reauthorize the Technical Vocational Education Program, and to demonstrate to policymakers the value UA adds to Alaska and our economy.
Welcome Senator Ted Stevens Legislative Interns
This week lawmakers welcome this year’s cohort of the Senator Ted Stevens Legislative Internship Program. For more than 30 years, the Legislature has hosted University of Alaska students to intern during the legislative session and to partake in this rigorous public policy program. During his life, Senator Stevens maintained a legendary commitment to education, public service, and the professional development of the next generation of Alaskan leaders. The Ted Stevens Foundation is continuing that legacy, and in recognition of its financial commitment to the program, the university renamed the internship in the Senator’s honor. This year’s cohort is a diverse group of students from every region of our state:
- Celeste "CJ" Harrell, UAS - Sen. Jesse Kiehl
- Connor Owens, UAS - Sen. Tom Begich
- Emma Ashlock, UAF - Sen. Mia Costello
- Max Robicheaux, UAF - Sen. Scott Kawasaki
- Riley Nye, UAS - Sen. Shelley Hughes
- Trevor Bailly, UAF - Sen. Bill Wielechowski
- Trystin Luhr, UAS - Rep. Chris Tuck
Past interns have gone on to work in law, public service, and industry, and even to serve in the legislature. This is a great professional development opportunity, and worth recommending to all UA students regardless of their field of study or planned career track.
Former Legislator Jay Kerttula Passes
Longtime legislator Jalmar “Jay” Kerttula passed away in November. Kerttula was Alaska’s longest serving legislator, and the only person to serve as both Speaker of the House and President of the Senate. His venerable career representing Palmer spanned more than 30 years and played a pivotal role in shaping our state. Kerttula came to Alaska as part of the New Deal’s agriculture farm project in the Mat-Su Valley and attended the University of Alaska. He is remembered as a statesman, and a building on UAA’s Mat-Su College campus is named in his honor. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.
Gavel Alaska is a statewide television service providing live coverage of state government. As Alaska’s own version of C-Span, the programming covers legislative committee meetings, floor sessions, leadership press conferences and other political events. The channel, and its website video archives, are on almost constantly in legislative offices as a way to keep up on legislative proceedings. Programming also covers the Alaska Supreme Court, Governor’s Press Conferences and numerous other state events. Journalist Tim Bradner recently interviewed UA Interim President Pat Pitney for Gavel’s series Capitol Views. The 8-minute segment will air on the network throughout the next several months.