In a memo to the UA community on May 10, the university announced that, “The House and Senate Operating Budget Conference Committee agreed to fund the University of Alaska’s operating budget at $327 million for the next fiscal year.”
The $327 million operating budget is below the initial $341 million requested by the UA Board of Regents but above Gov. Bill Walker’s budget proposal of $317 million. Miles Baker, UA associate vice president of Government Relations, sees this final allocation as a success for university.
“We’ve had four years, four consecutive years of budget cuts, and I think just stopping that trend would be a success. In this case, we stopped it, and in this case in what is a very tough budget environment, got an additional $10 million,” Baker said.
At the beginning of the spring semester, Baker and UA President Jim Johnsen had stated their goals for legislative advocacy included receiving an operating budget of $341 million, protection of the Alaska Higher Education Investment Fund and the renewal of the Alaska Education Tax Credit.
In an interview from January, Johnsen said, “$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.”
Baker said joint advocacy with industry partners helped accomplish the goal of extending the Alaska Education Tax Credit.
“We were able to get it extended for six years,” Baker said. “There were a couple changes made to the way the credit works as a part of that extension.”
Another goal of legislative advocacy this year was to protect the Alaska Performance Scholarship and Alaska Education Grant from being used for other projects.
“Another thing I think that was important for us this year was that we were able to maintain in the current way they function, the Alaska Performance Scholars program and the Alaska Education Grant, which are the two primary secondary assistance programs the state provides,” Baker said.
In the memo, the university thanked all of the UA community members who advocated to the legislature on the behalf of the university. Liz Rangel, psychology and languages major, was one of several students to be selected to attend the USUAA advocacy trip in March. The student advocates focused on preserving the Alaska Higher Education Investment Fund, which includes the Alaska Performance Scholarship and Alaska Education Grant.
“A lot of students wouldn’t be able to go to college at all if wasn’t for the Alaska Performance Scholarship, including myself,” Rangel said.
Rangel hopes that personalizing these budget issues with real stories helped the legislature come to their decision to allocate more to the operating budget than previous years.
“I think that adding faces and personal stories to the numbers and the negotiations and everything that goes on in these conference meetings… Getting to humanize the issue and realize that this is affecting real Alaskans, real kids, real young adults that are just trying to better themselves and wanting to be supported by the system itself. I would like to think that had something to do with it,” Rangel said.
Legislative advocacy planning for next session has not begun yet, but Baker says government relations officials will begin to work on their goals for advocacy soon.
“This budget that we just worked on is the budget that will start July 1,” Baker said. “The cycle for planning for next year starts pretty soon because we have to have that stuff wrapped up by the end of the summer, end of the fall for the Board of Regents review and for submission to the governor’s office.”