#UADevastated but #UAStrong: Gov. Dunleavy’s operating budget cuts $135 million from the UA system

Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced his signed operating budget at a press conference in Juneau the morning of Friday, June 28, just three days before the start of fiscal year 2020. The budget proposed cuts totaling around $400 million in addition to the $280 million already proposed by the Alaska State Legislature, totaling $680 million in reductions. 

Dunleavy’s budget included 182 vetoed lines out of the Legislature’s operating budget, according to Donna Arduin, head of the state Office of Management and Budget. The biggest veto was aimed at the University of Alaska system, primarily targeting both the University of Alaska Anchorage and Fairbanks. The universities face cuts of over $130 million on top of the $5 million already approved by the Legislature. As for UA’s community campuses, such as the University of Alaska Southeast, all funding will remain intact. 

The combined reductions total nearly 41% of the support provided by the state of Alaska annually, resembling Dunleavy’s budget for UA that he proposed in February, which suggested state support cuts of $155 million. 

Although Dunleavy’s veto is substantial, he views the cuts as a necessary step towards balancing Alaska’s budget.

“I don’t think [the University of Alaska] can be all things for all people and I think that’s, generally speaking, the state of Alaska,” Dunleavy said during Friday’s press conference. “We can’t continue to be all things for all people. We don’t have the money to do that.”

Other services that will take a significant hit by Dunleavy’s item-line vetoes are Medicaid ($50 million), the School Bond Debt Reimbursement ($49 million) and the Senior Benefits Program ($21 million), according to the Items of Significant Interest document.

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In the press conference, Dunleavy acknowledged the great impact that his operating budget will have on the University of Alaska system and Alaskan education as a whole, but also expressed confidence in UA’s ability to handle the situation wisely. 

“This budget is going to impact all of Alaskans. The University of Alaska, I have a lot of faith in,” Dunleavy said. “[They are] resilient… I’d say give them a chance. I believe that they’re going to be able to work through this.”

UA officials were shocked by Dunleavy’s decision.

“The governor exercised his veto today and took us all the way back to February 14, to a $134 million or 41% cut to the university’s budget. It’s devastating, there’s no question about it,” UA President Jim Johnsen said in a video by University of Alaska on YouTube.

In response to the cuts, Johnsen announced immediate action from the UA system, including freezes on hiring and travelling and sending notices to all UA employees for furlough.

According to Johnsen, there are two possible outcomes for the legislative decision on the veto, one where the veto is overrode by the Legislature, and another in which the University of Alaska will experience the immense 41% cut to the UA budget.

“If we’re not successful with the override, then the Board will be asked to declare financial exigency and also our plan for what programs, what units, what campuses across the University of Alaska system will need to be reduced or discontinued or closed,” Johnsen said.

Although the veto to the University of Alaska funding is significant, UAA Chancellor Cathy Sandeen remained positive in her YouTube-video response to the operating budget.

“We are focused on what we can do to maintain our programs, continue to serve our students, while also looking at where we can cut,” Sandeen said.

Sandeen is not willing to accept this loss without a fight. In her responsorial video, she urged viewers to take action as Johnsen did.

“UAA is a special institution. We do so much for the community [and] for our students, and I want to do everything I can to continue that good work,” Sandeen said. “I just want to assure you that we are working diligently toward an override for this veto. It is possible that that can happen, and we need your help to advocate for that.”

Under Alaska’s state constitution, legislators have the power to override a governor’s veto. In order to do so, three-fourths of the members of the Legislature, in this case 45 of 60,  must agree to the override. An agreement must be made by the “fifth day of a special session of that Legislature, if one is called,” according to Article II, Section 16.

Anyone who wishes to contribute to an override may contact their state legislators and express how the cuts would affect them and the UA community. To obtain contact information for representatives and senators in Alaska, visit The Alaska State Legislature website, scroll to the bottom of the page, enter a full address in the “Who Represents Me?” box and click on the individual’s name for phone and email contact information. 

Fighting for and maintaining the UA system is integral to Alaska’s future, Johnsen says.

“There is no strong state without a strong university. There is no strong economy in the country or the world without a strong higher education system, and all of that is endangered by this decision, so please raise your voice, make your views known to your legislators, that’s the only step we have at this point,” Johnsen said.

He encouraged the university to press on.

“We are UA strong,” Johnsen said.

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