Feb. 26 Capitol Report: Budget Hearings and Regent Confirmations

February 26, 2021

Feb. 26 was 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.