By Miles Baker
UA associate vice president of government relations
March 13, 2017, is the 56th day of the legislative session.
On Friday, March 10, following a week of debate and hundreds of proposed amendments, the House Finance Committee finished its work on the state’s FY18 operating budget. This afternoon, the House will begin full floor debate on the bills (HB 57/HB 59). A final vote on the bills is several days away, as many expect the House Minority will take another run at many of the same amendments that were voted down by the Finance Committee last week.
House Finance Committee action
The House Finance Committee’s final discussion on the university’s budget occurred late Thursday evening at the end of a full week of amendments touching on every aspect of the state’s budget. There were only two amendments presented to the committee with the potential to impact the university’s budget. Both amendments are contained on page 96 of the final amendment package, available here.
Rep. David Guttenberg drafted an amendment (H UOA 6) that would have increased our $325 million unrestricted general fund (UGF) budget by $16.2 million, restoring it to the Board of Regents’ full $341 million request. However, when it came time for Rep. Guttenberg to offer the amendment, he withdrew it without comment. There was no discussion of his action or on his amendment by other committee members. This was discouraging. UA President Jim Johnsen and I spent a tremendous amount of time over the last week meeting with legislators and building support for the amendment. Thanks to those of you who also took time to weigh in and communicate your support directly to legislators. We believe the votes to support the amendment were there if it had been offered and put to a vote. One of the guiding principles of the House Majority Coalition is to hold the line on all agency budgets and to not increase spending substantially above the governor’s proposal. Ultimately, a desire by the majority to hold to that principle scuttled introduction of the amendment. The second amendment offered by Rep. Tammie Wilson (H UOA 7), was the exact opposite of Guttenberg’s amendment. Rep. Wilson’s amendment proposed to cut $16.3 million or 5 percent from the $325 million spending level already endorsed by the committee. Rep. Guttenberg and Rep. Kawasaki spoke in opposition to the amendment. Rep. Jason Grenn added that he believed the university was on the right track and that the $325 million proposed by the governor was a sufficient level of funding given the difficult fiscal situation facing the state. Rep. Wilson provided a number of arguments in support of her amendment, which ultimately failed on a 7-3 vote with Rep. Tilton and Rep. Pruitt joining Wilson to vote in favor. Rep. Thompson and all the majority members of the committee voted against, and Rep. Gara was away from the table at the time of the vote. You can watch the House Finance Committee’s discussion of the university’s budget and Rep. Wilson’s amendment here or or watch 360 North’s broadcast at http://www.360north.org/gavel/
ntID=2017031137. The discussion of the university begins at about 3:57pm on both recordings.
The summary numbers that the full House of Representatives will begin considering today for the university’s FY18 operating budget are: $325.0 million Undesignated General Funds (UGF), $331.6 million Designated General Funds (DGF), $143.9 million Federal, $86.7 million Other, for a total of $887.1 million.
This budget is still $16 million below the regents’ request, and $53 million below our UGF funding level just three years ago. More details on the House numbers for the university are available here and you can review the two intent language pieces that have been adopted by the House here.
New budget action of critical concern
At 8 a.m. on March 13, the Senate Finance Subcommittee responsible for reviewing the university’s FY18 operating budget held its third and final hearing on our budget. At this morning’s close out, the subcommittee made a 5 percent ($16.252 million) reduction to the university’s UGF budget. While this action wasn’t unexpected, it’s now official. The only good news coming out of today’s meeting is that the subcommittee didn’t adopt any new intent language nor did it accept the intent language the House added on its side. Committee Chair Sen. Natasha von Imhof and Sens. Gary Stevens, Anna MacKinnon and Berta Gardner passed the recommendation out of committee without objection. Michelle Rizk, UA vice president of university relations, and I attended the meeting and made brief comments. You can access the committee’s closeout report and watch the hearing here. Alternatively, you can watch the 360 North broadcast of today’s closeout hearing here. The subcommittee’s report is scheduled to be presented to the full Senate Finance Committee March 15 at 1 p.m.
The Senate subcommittee’s action drops the university’s UGF budget to $308.8 million, $32.4 million or 9.5 percent below the Board of Regents’ request of $341 million. The Senate’s number is $16.2 million below the recommendations of the governor and the House. Perhaps of more significant concern, the Senate’s number represents nearly a $70 million or 19 percent reduction in our budget just in the last four years. We are now positioned for an important conference committee negotiation later in the session when we will be advocating for the House’s $325 million funding level and against the Senate’s $309 million level.
Until then, the next best opportunity for you to advocate on behalf of the university will be Wednesday and Thursday, March 15 and 16 when the Senate Finance Committee will hear public testimony on its version of the FY18 operating budget (SB 22/SB 24). I encourage you to take a moment to communicate your support for the university before the committee concludes its budget deliberations. You can do that in several ways, by participating in the public testimony coming up this week, or by calling or writing your legislators. Use one of these opportunities to explain why the university is a priority to you. Legislative office phone numbers are available here. You can contact your legislator by email or via the public opinion message system. Legislative emails are available here. If you wish to send an online POM go to: www.legis.state.ak.us/poms/.
We will provide additional information on the public testimony process later this week.
Other activity of interest from last week
On March 9, the Senate subcommittee responsible for reviewing the university’s operating budget held its second hearing. UAA Professors Tim Jester and Forrest Nabors testified. President Johnsen participated from Fairbanks and addressed committee questions on a variety of topics, including Strategic Pathways, Statewide administrative costs, decentralization and the School of Education consolidation process. You can listen to the hearing and access committee materials at http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Mee
-03-09%2011:15:00#tab4_4. Alternatively, you can watch the 360 North broadcast of the hearing at http://www.360north.org/gavel/
On March 10, the Senate Education Committee heard SB 17, Sen. Mia Costello’s bill to establish the Stevens-Inouye Exchange Program, a reciprocal educational exchange between the University of Alaska and the University of Hawaii for students pursuing political science degrees. Saichi Oba, associate vice president of student and enrollment strategy, testified on behalf of the university and expressed our support for moving forward with working out the details of establishing the exchange. You can listen to the hearing and access committee materials at http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Mee
7-03-10%2008:00:00#tab4_4. Alternatively, you can watch the 360 North broadcast of the hearing at http://www.360north.org/gavel/
Also on March 10, the House Education Committee held a confirmation hearing for Regent Mary Hughes. Regent Hughes was reappointed by Gov. Bill Walker to serve a third term on the Board of Regents. You can listen to the hearing and access committee materials here. Alternatively, you can watch the 360 North broadcast of the confirmation hearing here.
On March 10, the House Labor and Commerce Committee held its second hearing on HB 141, Rep. Zach Fansler’s bill extending the Technical Vocational Education Program (TVEP) for five years through 2022. The University of Alaska depends on TVEP funds to help educate and train the skilled and talented workforce Alaska needs to build a diverse, robust and competitive economy. After limited public testimony, the legislation was moved out of committee without objection. You can watch the hearing and get committee documents at http://www.akleg.gov/basis/Mee
017-03-10%2015:15:00#tab4_4. Alternatively, you can watch the 360 North broadcast of the hearing at http://www.360north.org/gavel/
ntID=2017031121. The next committee of referral is the House Finance Committee, which has scheduled a preliminary hearing for Friday, March 16, at 1:30 p.m.
Other events of interest this week
On March 13, the Senate Education Committee moved Sen. Costello’s Stevens-Inouye Exchange Program bill from committee. Associate Vice President Oba answered a follow-up question from Sen. Cathy Giessel regarding eligibility for in-state tuition. You can watch the hearing and get committee documents here. Alternatively, you can watch the 360 North broadcast of the hearing here
On March 15 at 8 a.m., the House Education Committee will hold a confirmation hearing on Regent Karen Perdue. Regent Perdue is being appointed to her first term on the Board of Regents.
Also on Wednesday, March 15, at 9 a.m., the Senate Finance Committee will hold confirmation hearings on Regent Perdue and Regent Hughes.
On Friday, March 16, the House Finance Committee is scheduled to hold a preliminary hearing on HB 141, Rep. Fansler’s TVEP reauthorization bill.
New legislation of interest to the UA community
SB 85 (Labor and Commerce) provides a three-year extension of the Technical Vocational Education Program (TVEP) until 2020. HB 141, the companion to this bill, would extend the program for five years until 2022.
You can find an index of legislation we are following this session here.
Thank you for your continued support of the University of Alaska. For more information, contact Miles Baker at email@example.com or visit www.alaska.edu/state.