Capitol Report

The Capitol Report: February

By Chris Christensen, associate vice president for state relations

February 13, 2015

Today is the 25th day of the legislative session. The House is about halfway through the operating budget review process, and the Senate has just begun its work.

Last week, the House’s University Budget Subcommittee had two hearings on our FY16 operating budget. President Gamble provided an overview of the university system, and discussed the operating budget that the governor submitted to the legislature. He also talked about the short-term and long-term impact on the university of the decline in oil revenue, and the plans that UA has been developing to deal with the resulting reduction in state funds.

At the second subcommittee hearing, Regent Mike Powers provided an overview of the role of the Board of Regents in governing the university. He was assisted by Board Chair Jo Heckman via audio conference. Regents Ken Fisher and Dale Anderson attended the meeting in person and were invited to make brief statements by Chair Tammie Wilson. New Regent Lisa Parker and long-time Regent Mary Hughes were also on line.

This week, we had two additional subcommittee hearings. On Monday, Dr. Dan White, UAF’s Interim Vice Chancellor for Research, and Dr. Helena Wisniewski, UAA’s Vice Provost for Research and Graduate Studies, appeared at the request of the subcommittee to speak about research and grants at UA. They discussed grant revenue received by the system, the benefits of research to UA and to the state, and UA’s efforts to use research to leverage additional revenue and benefit Alaska’s economy.

On Thursday , the subcommittee heard from President Gamble and UAS Chancellor John Pugh on the topic of students, classes, and tuition. The subcommittee wanted to hear about graduation rates, job placement, and the costs and benefits of operating facilities and programs in communities all around the state.

The subcommittee process in the House will conclude in late February, and then the full House Finance Committee will take up the budget. Representative Mark Neuman, the Co-Chair of the House Finance Committee, told the press recently that the House would be looking at the governor’s budget with an eye for further cuts. This is disappointing news, since the governor's budget for the university already proposes a cut.

In the Senate, President Gamble appeared before the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday to provide an overview to the committee. The Senate has not yet scheduled any hearings for its University Budget Subcommittee.


We’ve had questions about advocacy activity this session. UA has many passionate advocates who are always willing to assist as we try to get our message out to legislators.

Normally, university advocates ask legislators to support various operating increments and capital projects that have been sent to the legislature by the Board of Regents.

While the Board of Regents did approve modest operating increments and several capital projects in November, since that time the board and university leadership have acknowledged the radically different fiscal environment that the state is facing. As I have noted in previous Capitol Reports, the price of oil has collapsed in the last four months, and the state is missing two-thirds of the revenues it expected to fund the state budget during the current fiscal year. This year’s deficit is now estimated to run between $3.5 and $4 billion. Projections from the Department of Revenue are that the price of oil will remain low for a least another year, and the governor and legislature are planning accordingly.

With that in mind, we are no longer pushing for an increase.

We are pleased that Governor Walker’s budget shows a smaller percentage reduction to the university's operating budget than the reduction he proposed for most agencies, and his capital budget does include a modest amount for the new UAF engineering building and for deferred maintenance. In our conversations with legislators, we are asking them to support the governor's proposed budgets.

We are also asking that the legislature make a single lump-sum operating appropriation to the university, instead of giving us multiple appropriations that specify cuts to individual programs, campuses, or categories (such as personnel costs). The lump sum would allow us to manage budget reductions as we believe will best ensure a strong university going forward.

We know that advocates will have specific things that are important to them and we hope they will share examples of things that have had and continue to have an impact on them and on the state.

It's important that legislators and other community leaders see the university as a major asset to the state and a partner in helping to educate Alaskans for the roles they will play in advancing our state and
its economy.

*Other Meetings:*

A Lunch and Learn was held on Monday on “UAS Industry in Alaska and Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration." The presenter was Ro Bailey, the Director of the Pan-Pacific UAS Test Range Complex and Deputy Director of ACUASI. 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. Lunch is provided by the sponsor, and presentations are popular and well attended.

*Next Week:*

On Monday at noon, there will be a Lunch and Learn on the Alaska Maritime Workforce Development plant. The presenters will include UAF’s Paula Cullenberg, the Director of Alaska Sea Grant.

On Monday, Tuesday , and Wednesday , the R/V Sikuliaq will be in Juneau. The Sikuliaq is on its maiden voyage to its home port of Seward. The vessel is a 261-foot oceanographic research ship designed for work in the Arctic. It is owned by the National Science Foundation and operated by UAF’s School of
Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. It is one of the most advanced university research vessels in the world. Legislators will be touring the Sikuliaq while it is here.

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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