Capitol report
 

May 6, 2022

The Senate Takes up an Omnibus Budget Bill as Lawmakers Near Session Deadline

With only 13 days left until the Legislature hits the 121-day regular session deadline, lawmakers are rushing to meet their constitutionally mandated duties, namely passing a state budget and voting on appointees to state boards, commissions and the Governor’s cabinet. Early this week, we saw the Senate make big moves on the operating budget, while on Wednesday both bodies met in a Joint Session to vote on appointments.

After several weeks of hearings in the Senate Finance Committee, the state operating budget (House Bill 281/282) was transmitted to the Senate floor on Tuesday afternoon. Before passing the budget out of the committee, Senators amended the legislation to include the entire capital budget. Notably, the capital budget that was amended into the bill is the Senate’s version of the bill (Senate Bill 164). The new omnibus bill, as amended, does not include any House input on the capital budget.

The draft budget includes the following funding for the University of Alaska:

  • $13.9 million for fixed cost operating increases, $2 million for Alternative Energy Research, $1 million to support teacher practicums/student teaching pilot program, $1 million to support health care clinical pilot programs, $635,900 for continued Alaska Library Network and Imagination Library support. 

  • $881,800 in FY22 supplemental funding for the Alaska Technical and Vocational Education Program (TVEP).

  • $50 million in one-time funding for facilities deferred maintenance, $20 million for student facing IT system upgrades, $2.5 million for emerging energy opportunities, $250,000 for mineral security projects, $500,000 for a rare earth elements demonstration facility, and $2 million for maritime works.

The Senate will consider the budget this upcoming Monday. After the Senate passes the budget, it will have to go back to the House for a concurrence vote. The House will either accept the changes made, or send the bill to a conference committee where the final elements will be sorted out.  With only 13 days left in the regular session the timeline for a conference committee is limited. If the legislature isn’t finished with a budget by May 18, lawmakers will need to vote to extend the session by another 10 days. The session extension requires a 2/3 vote in each body - a target many legislative insiders are skeptical can be reached.

While state funding is currently looking greatly improved for the university system, we are not finished with the process yet. Even after the legislature comes to an agreement on the budget, the final legislation will go to the Governor’s office where he has the ability to veto any funding. The legislature can only override vetoes with a 3/4 vote.

Bills on the Move

While all eyes have been on the budget this week, several other pieces of important legislation relating to the university have been on the move this week:

  • House Bill 229, Representative Josephson’s bill protecting the Higher Education Investment Fund (HEIF), has seemingly stalled out in the Senate Education Committee. In a quick effort to mitigate the situation, the House amended similar wording protecting the HEIF into House Bill 322, a bill relating to the Alaska Marine Highway System Fund. The House passed HB 322 and it was transmitted to the Senate where the bill was referred to the Senate Finance Committee, bypassing the Senate Education and Transportation committees. We are optimistic that the bill will come up quickly and the legislature will vote to protect the fund for future generations. The legislation is timely after the Supreme Court affirmed a Superior Court ruling against the suit brought by four UA students who legally challenged the administration’s action to sweep the fund into the Constitutional Budget Reserve. By passing HB 322, the legislature will settle the issue by making the HEIF unsweepable in future years.
     
  • Senate Bill 36, updating the university’s reporting requirements to the Legislature, had a hearing in House State Affairs. The bill, sponsored by Senator Stevens, would require the Board of Regents to report university accreditation status to the legislature. The bill was heard and held in committee and will be brought up again next week.
     
  • Senator Wielechowski’s Senate Bill 25, updating Alaska’s online checkbook website, was also heard in House State Affairs this week. The bill requires state agencies to report their financial revenue and expenditures to the Department of Administration so that the information may be shared on a publicly-available website. The bill is intended to make state finances more transparent. However, because the university system uses a different financial accounting system than other state agencies, aligning our reports with other agencies is a burdensome process. The bill was amended in State Affairs to exempt the University of Alaska from the reporting requirements. The bill passed out of committee and heads to House Finance next.  
     
  • Senate Bill 177, removing barriers to microreactor development, was passed out of the Senate on Wednesday. The bill is important to the university as the Alaska Center for Energy and Power (ACEP) is heavily involved with microreactor development in the state. The bill is scheduled in the House Resources Committee this upcoming Monday.
     
  • House Bill 363, establishing a state broadband office and broadband advisory board, was passed out of the House and transmitted to the Senate where it has been referred to the Senate Labor & Commerce Committee. The University of Alaska is one of the largest users of broadband in the state. As an “anchor institution” within the state, we are included in the bill with a seat on the advisory board.

Next Week’s Calendar

Monday, May 9

  • 9:00 a.m. - Senate Floor: House Bill 281: Appropriations: Operating Budget/Loans/Funds” & House Bill 282: “Appropriations: Mental Health Budget”

  • 1:00 p.m. - Senate Finance: Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled

  • 1:00 p.m. - House Resources: Senate Bill 177: “Microreactors”

  • 1:30 p.m. - Senate Labor & Commerce: House Bill 363: “Broadband: Office, Grants, Parity”

Tuesday, May 10

  • 9:00 a.m. - Senate Finance: Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled

  • 1:00 p.m. - Senate Finance: Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled

  • 1:30 p.m. - House Finance: Senate Bill 25: “State Government Finances: Website”

Wednesday, May 11

  • 9:00 a.m. - Senate Finance: Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled

  • 1:00 p.m. - House Resources: Senate Bill 177: “Microreactors”

  • 1:00 p.m. - Senate Finance: Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled

  • 1:30 p.m. - House Finance: Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled

Thursday, May 12

  • 9:00 a.m. - Senate Finance: Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled

  • 9:00 a.m. - House Finance: Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled

  • 1:00 p.m. - Senate Finance: Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled

  • 1:30 p.m. - House Finance: Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled

  • 3:00 p.m. - House State Affairs: Senate Bill 36: “U of A Regents Reporting Requirements”

Friday, May 13

  • 9:00 a.m. - Senate Finance: Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled

  • 9:00 a.m. - House Finance: Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled

  • 1:00 p.m. - Senate Finance: Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled

  • 1:30 p.m. - House Finance: Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled

Saturday, May 14

  • 10:00 a.m. - Senate Finance: Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled

  • 10:00 a.m. - House Finance: Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled