Capitol Report Feb. 14 and Feb. 24

February 24, 2014

Today is the 35th day of the legislative session, and the House’s University Budget Subcommittee is almost done with its work. Last Tuesday, the subcommittee held its third hearing and took testimony on a number of topics. Chancellor Brian Rogers was invited to speak about the need to upgrade UAF’s combined heat and power plant, and the subcommittee spent the largest block of time on that issue. The Board of Regents requested $245 million for this project ($195 million in general funds, and authorization for $50 million in UA revenue bonds). Unfortunately, the governor did not include any funds for the upgrade in his capital budget, and it is a difficult year for the legislature to add that much additional money for one project to the budget. Many of the questions posed by legislators involved finding other ways to finance the project.

In addition to Chancellor Rogers, the subcommittee heard Dr. Helena Wisniewski, UAA Vice Provost for Research and Graduate Studies, and Dr. Dan White, UAF Associate Vice Chancellor for Research, talk about the efforts of UAA and UAF to incentivize and commercialize research and innovation on campus. Subcommittee members were surprised and pleased to learn that UAA and UAF are making a concerted effort to take research with economic potential and find ways to market it and generate income for the researchers and for the university.

Finally, the subcommittee heard from Ro Bailey, the Deputy Director of the Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration, on UA’s work with unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). The legislature provided a $5 million capital appropriation to the center two years ago, and this investment paid off when the FAA chose UA to operate one of six UAS research and test sites across the country. The economic potential is considerable.

At 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 25, the subcommittee will have its final hearing and make a budget recommendation to the House Finance Committee. As you have probably heard, the governor submitted a UA budget that has a substantial reduction from the current year, and we anticipate that this austere budget will be further reduced in the House.

The House Finance Committee has released its schedule for completing work on the operating budget. The key dates are as follows:

Budget subcommittees must finish their work by Friday, Feb. 28 (as notedabove, UA’s subcommittee is scheduled to finish its work on Feb. 25)

Statewide public testimony will be taken on the budget on March 4 and 5. 

The committee will meet to finalize the budget on March 11, and it will go to the House floor for passage the following week.

Critical dates for UA advocacy are March 4 and 5, when the House Finance Committee takes public testimony in Juneau and by statewide teleconference.

How does this teleconference work?

Notice will be posted on the legislature’s committee hearing calendar as to the times that the House Finance Committee will be taking public testimony. Typically, time is allotted for Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, rural, and offnet sites throughout the day. The public is invited to attend these meetings at their local legislative information office (http://w3.legis.state.ak.us/misc/lios.php) where they can sign up to present their testimony.

Once the committee receives the roster of speakers, they will call upon each person to come to the table to give a two-minute presentation. They are serious about this time constraint.

Note: We will send out a notice to all list serve members as soon as the times are posted. We will also post it on the UA State Relations webpage (http://www.alaska.edu/state). 

What if you can’t make it to the hearing?

House Finance Committee members will also accept written testimony sent by mail, email or fax. It’s also a great idea to copy your own legislators so they know what you are supporting.

Why is this hearing important?

Legislators WANT to hear from their constituents. They will be listening intently and taking notes on what is said and what budget items have the most support. The more university advocates who show up to testify on the budget, the better.  

We will have more information on this in the near future.

New Legislation:

A piece of legislation of great interest to the UA community was introduced last week. SB 176, sponsored by Senator John Coghill, takes away most of the Board of Regents’ authority to regulate the possession of firearms on campus. The bill authorizes both open carry and concealed carry of firearms any place on campus, with a few exceptions. The primary exception is that the Board of Regents may prohibit possession in “restricted access areas,” which the bill defines as areas beyond a secure point where visitors are screened. The bill has been referred only to the Senate Judiciary Committee, and has tentatively been scheduled for its first hearing on Monday, March 3 from 1:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.  President Gamble will testify. The members of the Judiciary Committee are:

Senator John Coghill, Chair

Senator Lesil McGuire, Vice Chair

Senator Fred Dyson

Senator Donald Olson

Senator Bill Wielechowski

You can find more information about SB 176 at http://www.legis.state.ak.us/basis/get_bill.asp?bill=SB%20176&session=28 

Also introduced last week was HB 306 by Representative Steve Thompson. Among other things, this bill will repeal the Education Tax Credit by June 30, 2016, along with all other indirect tax credits provided by the state. These tax credits cost the state lost revenue, and the bill provides a mechanism for their periodic sunset and review so that the credits can be reenacted if the legislature decides they still have value to the state. There will be a hearing on HB 306 in the House Finance Committee on Thursday, Feb. 27 at 1:30 p.m. 

You can find more information about HB 306 at http://www.legis.state.ak.us/basis/get_bill.asp?bill=HB%20306&session=28

Watch Gavel to Gavel (www.360north.org ) to view these and other hearings.

For more information, contact Chris Christensen at
cschristenseniii@alaska.edu or visit www.alaska.edu/state .

February 14, 2014

Today is the 25th day of the legislative session, and the operating budget review process in the House is in full swing. Last week, President Gamble appeared before the House Finance Committee to provide an overview of the university system, including its mission, core services, and priorities; challenges and pressing issues; Shaping Alaska’s Future; and various other matters. He also discussed the FY15 UA operating budget that the governor submitted to the legislature.

Immediately following that meeting, President Gamble testified before the House’s University Budget Subcommittee, offering a similar overview of the system, and a more detailed look at the differences between the budget proposed by the Board of Regents, and the one submitted by the governor. The subcommittee will do the detail work on the university’s budget, and then send a recommendation to the House Finance Committee. A second subcommittee hearing was held earlier this week. Legislative Finance Director David Teal, UA Budget Director Michelle Rizk, and I were asked to respond to a variety of questions about the budget and other areas of interest to subcommittee members.

The subcommittee process in the House will conclude in late February, and then the full House Finance Committee will take up the budget. Representative Alan Austerman, the Co-Chair of the House Finance Committee, told the press last week that the House’s version of the operating budget will probably include less general fund money for agency operations than the budget proposed by the governor. This is disappointing news, since the governor’s budget for the university already proposed a substantial cut.

Student Regent Courtney Enright appeared at a confirmation hearing before the House Education Committee on Wednesday, so that the committee could review her qualifications and ask her questions. Members of the Board of Regents are appointed by the governor and must have their appointments confirmed by a majority of the legislature in joint session. Regent Enright will have a similar hearing in the Senate Education Committee sometime later this session. The confirmation vote normally takes place during the final week of the session.

Also on Wednesday, Director Gwen Holdmann and Dr. Jeremy Kasper of UAF’s Alaska Center for Energy and Power (ACEP) held a “Lunch and Learn” in the Capitol Building. The Lunch and Learn is a 60-minute presentation made during the lunch hour that is used by the university and other organizations to provide information on topics of interest to legislators and staff. Food is provided, and presentations are popular and well attended. Holdmann and Kasper spoke on “Hydrokinetics – Energy Options for Alaska’s Communities.”

Two bills of interest were heard in committee this week: HB 255, which authorizes a UA training program for unmanned aircraft operators and places certain restrictions on the use of drone aircraft by law enforcement agencies, had a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee. HB 271 had its first hearing in the House Transportation Committee. That bill proposes to give UAF a special appropriation of $2,000,000 to study the feasibility of a railroad link between Fairbanks and Deadhorse.

Hearings Next Week:

On Tuesday, Feb. 18, The Senate Finance Committee will hear President Gamble provide an overview of the university’s capital budget at 9 a.m. His presentation will include a discussion of those items that are in the Board of Regents’ request, but were not included by the governor in his capital budget bill.

Also on Tuesday, the House Economic Development, Trade, and Tourism Committee will meet at 11:15 a.m. to hearDr. Helena Wisniewski, UAA Vice Provost for Research & Graduate Studies, talk about "Innovation Clusters & Economic Growth,” and Dr. Dan White, UAF Associate Vice Chancellor for Research, speak on "Commercializing UAF Innovation, a Win-Win for Alaska."

On Tuesday afternoon, the university will have its third House Budget Subcommittee hearing at 3 p.m. Chancellor Brian Rogers has been invited to speak about UAF’s combined heat and power plant upgrade and various other budget issues. Dr. Wizniewski and Dr. White will talk again on the topics listed in the preceding paragraph, and there will be a discussion of research projects and UAF’s work on unmanned aircraft systems.

On Wednesday, Feb. 19, there will be a joint meeting of the House and Senate Education Committees at 8 a.m. The members will hear a presentation from Dr. Diane Hirshberg and others on the activities and research of the Center for Alaska Education Policy Research (CAEPR) and Alaska State Policy Research Alliance (ASPRA). 

Other Activities Next Week:

There will be a Lunch and Learn on Tuesday at noon. The topic is “Digital Aerial Mapping of Alaska’s Resources.” Dr. Mark Meyers, the UAF Vice Chancellor for Research, and Dayne Broderson, the Technical Services Manager at the Geographic Information Network of Alaska (GINA), will be the presenters.

Watch Gavel to Gavel ( www.360north.org ) to view these and other hearings.

For more information, contact Chris Christensen at

cschristenseniii@alaska.edu or visit www.alaska.edu/state.

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