Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who ran for office promising no cuts to the University of Alaska, forced the institution into a devastating decision Monday that will harm students and the Alaska economy for many years to come.
With his veto of $130 million in state funding for the university, which has been preserved by a minority of Republicans in the Legislature, most of them from Mat-Su and Anchorage, Dunleavy has pushed UA over the edge.
The Fairbanks delegation, including Republican Sens. John Coghill and Click Bishop and Republican Reps. Steve Thompson and Bart LeBon, has opposed the Dunleavy plan to dismantle the University of Alaska. Democratic Sen. Scott Kawasaki and Democratic Reps. Adam Wool and Grier Hopkins, all of Fairbanks, also oppose the governor on this.
Republican Reps. Tammie Wilson of North Pole and Dave Talerico of Healy, whose district includes a part of the Fairbanks North Star Borough, have sided with Dunleavy. They have staked out a position that will harm Fairbanks more than any other community.
The UA board of regents declared “financial exigency” Monday, an action that will have long-lasting negative consequences for the university, young Alaskans and the Alaska economy. From 1,300 to 2,000 faculty and staff positions are expected to be eliminated, along with a host of academic programs, because of a $135 million budget cut.
Dunleavy and his radical Republican enablers are signalling to young Alaskans who want a higher education that they should move Outside.
Financial exigency is an extreme step that will lead to a sudden and unplanned dismantling of programs across the state. Anyone looking at this from Outside will conclude that the state is not a good place to invest because it is unwilling to support higher education.
At least twice in the past, the university has been on the ropes because of decisions made in Juneau. In both instances, however, there was a governor who believed in higher education and worked to prevent the damage.
In 1947-48, the university nearly shut its doors because of inaction by the Territorial Legislature that required the school to line up a dozen private personal loans to keep its doors open. Gov. Ernest Gruening called an emergency session in 1949 and helped get the territory’s first income tax approved that year.
In 1986, the UA regents authorized a move to declare financial exigency because of a sudden 20% drop in state support following a crash in oil prices that had led to a deficit.
Gov. Bill Sheffield was alarmed by the damage the emergency declaration would do and took immediate steps to deal with the problem, with the encouragement of key legislators.
On Aug. 15, 1986, Sheffield was in Fairbanks where he reached an agreement with UA President Donald O’Dowd that allowed $6 million from construction projects to be spent on operations, which avoided implementation of the exigency declaration. Legislative leaders of both parties supported the agreement. They had warned of dire consequences and lasting damage to the reputation of the university if no solution could be found.
Today we have a governor who created a crisis and who isn’t about to try to solve it. He refuses to take responsibility for his actions or for the promises he made as a candidate. He is governing by veto, ignoring the objections of Alaskans and a majority of the Legislature.
Dermot Cole is a longtime Alaskan, an author of several history books, and a former Daily News-Miner staff columnist who now writes an occasional column on Alaska politics and history. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.