Legislative session starts, UA officials advocate budget increase

The 30th Alaska State Legislature began its second session Jan. 16. Government relations employees from the University of Alaska are ramping up advocacy efforts this semester in hopes of securing more funding for the university.

University officials are advocating for a $341 million operating budget appropriation and a $50 million capital budget allocation for deferred maintenance.

University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen said successful advocacy will be achieved by receiving a general fund allocation of $341 million from the state.

“It’s going to be a hard goal, there’s no question,” Johnsen said. “But I don’t see a choice but to go after that. It’s critical… $341 [million] that’s still 10 percent below our [fiscal year 2014] budget for the state. It’s still a long-term cut from where we were, so it’s not an increase over our high, it’s actually just sort of a step up but it’s definitely still a step way down from where we were.”

The Board of Regents has set out five strategic goals to use revenue for, including economic development, workforce development, research, educational attainment and increased cost effectiveness.

“That is the goal and we’ll go after it… and that’ll be a success because — not because we’ve achieved the goal — but because we are now able to invest in the real goals which are workforce development and research and economic development and attainment,” Johnsen said.

The university received $377 million in general funds in FY14, and has received smaller allocations each following year, according to the University of Alaska FY18 operating budget support.

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Increasing the capital budget is another priority for advocates this legislative session. The capital budget focuses on deferred maintenance, and the university is asking for $50 million.

“We had a similar ask of $50 million dollars last year… We were able to get $5 million out of the process last year,” Miles Baker, Associate Vice President of Government Relations, said.

The university manages over 400 buildings statewide, and the deferred maintenance budget would go towards upkeep and repairs. Baker has been working in Juneau since the session opened, and he said he is advocating to increase Gov. Bill Walker’s budget proposal.

“This year, if we can maintain or increase the Governor’s budget for the university, that will be extremely successful,” Baker said. “…I think maintaining and improving the university’s relationships with the legislature and …making a good impression and communicating the value of the importance of investing in higher education, if we get those messages out then I think we’ve done a good job.”

House Bill 282 and Senate Bill 140 both fund the capital budget for the state by instating a tax, according to the senate bill.

“The 15 appropriations made in this Act are contingent on passage by the Thirtieth Alaska State 16 Legislature and enactment into law of a bill, to take effect not later than January 1, 2019, 17 establishing a payroll, income, or other broad-based tax projected by the Department of 18 Revenue to generate not less than $800,000,000 during fiscal years 2019 – 2021,” the senate bill reads.

Baker said advocacy efforts by the university are bolstered by student and industry testimony.

This article is the first in a series of three pieces The Northern Light is writing to preview legislative efforts in Juneau this semester. Pick up a paper next week to read about government relation’s officials goals for the Alaska Performance Scholarship, the Alaska Education Grant and the education tax credit.