Plumes

Exhaust plumes rise from structures during another sub-zero sunrise as seen from the west ridge overlook at University of Alaska Fairbanks Friday morning, November 18, 2011.

The University of Alaska Board of Regents met in Fairbanks this week to hear a number of different budget scenarios from UA President Jim Johnsen. With the Legislature still in session and not having passed a budget yet, university administrators are still unsure about what kind of cut they might be looking at.

After a conference committee meeting last month on the state’s operating budget, members of the Alaska House and Senate tentatively agreed to cut $5 million from the university’s current state funding levels. If the amount remains unchanged, this will leave the university with $322 million coming from the state in fiscal 2020; a seemingly small budget cut compared with the $134 million cut proposed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy in February. 

But even with the Legislature taking a lighter touch with the university budget, the governor still may use his line-item veto power to reduce the higher funding level. That possibility has left university administrators in a state of unease. 

“The budget uncertainty is very dark and very daunting,” Johnsen said, “and the veto risk is very high. This uncertainty creates a difficult challenge for us in our ability to operate and our ability to plan.” 

Two more complicated scenarios that creep closer each day are those in which the Legislature does not pass a budget by the July 1 deadline or the Legislature passes a budget but the governor vetoes aspects of the budget the Legislature plans to contest. 

The current special session is set to end in less than a week and half. If the Legislature runs out of time in this session without agreeing on a budget, Dunleavy spokesman Matt Shuckerow said the governor may call the Legislature back into a second special session.

In an attempt to plan for such an outcome, university leaders have been working with the governor’s office, the state Office of Management and Budget, and the Department of Law to figure out how to keep university operations running should an appropriation not be made. 

According to the Board of Regents, the university has yet to issue layoff or furlough notices, citing a number of reasons. The first is that many university operations in the summer are sustained through other sources of funding. The second, more pressing reason lies in the fact that some university operations are federally mandated and must continue even if the university does not receive an appropriation from the state. 

For Johnsen, even if the Legislature and the governor cooperate and make an appropriation, it’s down to the wire. 

“Even if we have a budget in the coming days, we would have mere weeks to implement it,” he said.

The Regents plan to meet again June 19 to finalize budget decisions. However, the plan hinges on the Legislature passing the state operating budget by then.

The special session is set to end June 14.

Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.

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