By Miles Baker
Associate Vice President Government Relations
March 23, 2018
Greetings from Juneau. Today is the 67th day of session.
Operating Budget Update
At time of publication, the House is on the floor working to complete its work on the FY19 Operating Budget (HB 286). In anticipation of the budget passing the House this weekend, the Senate Finance Committee has tentatively scheduled public testimony on the budget early next week. We will send out a reminder next week, but here’s the tentative schedule:
Tuesday, March 27th:
9:30 - 10:30 am: Juneau
10:30 - 11:00 am: Utqiagvik, Tok, Delta Junction
11:00 - 11:30 am: Kenai, Kodiak, Dillingham
11:30 am - 12:00 pm: Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg
1:30 - 2:30 pm: Bethel, Nome, Kotzebue, Unalaska
2:30 - 3:00 pm: Sitka, Cordova, Valdez
3:00 - 3:45 pm: Fairbanks, Mat-Su
Wednesday March 28th:
1:30 - 2:00 pm: Glennallen, Seward, Homer
2:00 - 3:00 pm: Statewide Off-nets
3:00 - 4:00 pm: Anchorage
It’s important that legislators hear your story about why the university matters to you, your family and our communities. If you’re wondering what to say, you can start by thanking legislators for their support of the University of Alaska. When contacting legislators, avoid using university email or other resources, and do so on your own time, such as lunchtime or after work.
Next Wednesday, March 28th, the university’s Senate Finance Budget Subcommittee will conclude its work and make a recommendation to the full Senate Finance Committee on funding levels for the university. We will be watching this process closely and please stay tuned for additional updates.
Legislation to extend the Education Tax Credit continues to gain momentum. Next week both the House and Senate Finance Committees will hear legislation extending this important tax credit by six years. Senate Bill 116 will be heard on Monday, March 26th at 9:00 am, and House Bill 233 will be heard Tuesday, March 27th at 1:30 pm. It’s great to see this legislation moving forward.
Also on Monday, the Senate Finance Committee will hear legislation instructing the university to study a way to address Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. Senate Bill 198 by Senator Pete Kelly would commission the UAA Institute of Circumpolar Health Studies to examine the potential impact of long acting reversible contraceptives for women with substance abuse disorders. Jeff Jessee, dean of the UAA College of Health, will participate in the hearing.
All of these hearings can be viewed online at www.gavelalaska.org or www.akl.tv.
Coalition of Student Leaders Fly-in
The university was well represented in the Capitol this week as young Alaskans from across the state visited Juneau for the UA Coalition of Student Leaders fly-in. Their energy and personal stories are always a big help in promoting UA and advocating for our legislative agenda.
The students met with dozens of legislators and staff, and got to see one of their fellow students in action, as UA Student Regent Joey Sweet had confirmation hearings before several legislative committees. His nomination to the Board of Regents was forwarded for consideration at a joint session of the Legislature later this session.
Thank you to all the students who took time to come to Juneau on behalf of our university. Thank you also to Morgan Dufseth, executive officer for system governance, for organizing a great fly-in.
By Miles Baker
Associate Vice President Government Relations
March 20, 2018
Greetings from Juneau. Today is the 64th day of session and I’m pleased to provide this update on work happening in the Capitol.
Lawmakers received some generally positive news this week when the Department of Revenue presented its spring revenue forecast. The department’s biannual predictions help frame the legislature’s deliberations on the budget, and its estimates for price and production of oil on Alaska’s North Slope set the parameters on revenue available to fund state government.
The spring 2018 forecast published on Friday is a bit of a mixed bag. Oil production is down slightly by approximately 2,500 barrels per day, but the price of oil is higher and shipping costs have been reduced. This resulted in a net increase in projected oil revenue for the state. For next fiscal year, FY19, the department is increasing its forecasted average price of oil from $57 per barrel to $63. This could mean an estimated additional $210 million dollars in much needed revenue.
However, the predicted increase is not enough to close the state’s $2.5 billion budget deficit, or to dramatically change the political calculus around a long-term fiscal plan, but any improvement in the state’s financial picture is encouraging.
The FY19 operating budget is being debated on the House floor this week. The House Finance Committee passed the budget (HB 286) out of committee late Friday afternoon after considering more than 100 amendments. As part of the amendment process, Co-Chair Rep. Paul Seaton added $500,000 for UAA’s Institute of Circumpolar Health Studies to study vitamin D levels in newborns and expecting mothers in Alaska.
We are grateful for the bipartisan support the House has demonstrated for the university. The budget the full House will be debating contains $19 million to help address fixed cost increases and the Board of Regents’ strategic priorities. Last year’s House floor proceedings on the budget lasted a full week and included consideration of more than 130 amendments. We will be monitoring this week’s floor debate closely. You can follow along online through Gavel to Gavel at www.gavelalaska.org.
Last week both the Senate and the House passed the FY18 fast track supplemental operating budget (HB 321). This bill covers immediate needs and unforeseen expenses for services such as Medicaid and the Alaska Marine Highway System. The bill also contains language approving the terms of the United Academics collective bargaining agreement reached late last year.
Coalition of Student Leaders Visit
It was great to welcome more than 30 young Alaskans to Juneau this week as part of the UA Coalition of Student Leaders fly-in. The energy and personal stories these students bring to the Capitol is inspiring. They are a big help in promoting UA and helping to advocate for our legislative agenda.
The students began their meeting over the weekend with remarks from House Majority Leader Rep. Chris Tuck, Rep. Scott Kawasaki, and Juneau Assembly member Jesse Kiehl. During their past two days around the Capitol, they’ve had dozens of meetings with legislators and staff. They also attended legislative hearings and got to see one of their fellow students in action.
On Monday, the Senate Education Committee held a confirmation hearing for UA Student Regent Joey Sweet. Governor Walker appointed Regent Sweet to a two-year term on the UA Board of Regents. At the end of the hearing, his nomination was forwarded by the committee for consideration at a joint session of the Legislature later this session.
You can listen to the hearing here: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Meeting/Detail?Meeting=SEDC%202018-03-19%2008:00:00#tab4_4
House State Affairs Hearing
The House State Affairs Committee held two discussions to consider potential changes to the Washington Wyoming Alaska Montana Idaho (WWAMI) Medical Education Program. WWAMI offers qualified Alaskans an opportunity to attend the University of Washington Medical School. The program has operated in Alaska for more than 40 years, providing Alaskans access to one of the nation’s top medical schools and increasing the number of doctors living and practicing in Alaska.
Committee members asked questions about WWAMI participation among Alaskans, the state’s financial contributions, student tuition, and the number of program graduates who return to practice in Alaska.
Dr. Jane Shelby, director of the WWAMI program at UAA, did a fantastic job answering legislators’ questions and explaining the program’s value to Alaska. You can listen to Dr. Shelby’s testimony here(beginning at time stamp 4:48:40): http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Meeting/Detail?Meeting=HSTA%202018-03-15%2015:15:00#tab4_4
The committee also discussed the program on Tuesday afternoon, which you can listen to here: http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Meeting/Detail?Meeting=HSTA%202018-03-13%2015:15:00#tab4_4
Representative Tiffany Zulkosky (D-Bethel) was sworn in on March 9th. We’re happy to welcome her to Juneau as an alumni of the university. Representative Zulkosky received her Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Alaska Southeast. Her swearing-in marks the first time the Legislature has been fully seated this session.