Capitol report

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.