Dunleavy agrees to reduced university cuts, spread over 3 years
Gov. Mike Dunleavy agreed to scale back steep University of Alaska budget reductions that caused consternation among the investment community and prompted the Board of Regents to declare financial exigency.
Dunleavy said Tuesday he will spread a $70 million cut over three years rather than a $135 million reduction over a single year.
This year’s reduction will be $25 million.
He signed an agreement with Board of Regents Chair John Davies with UA President Jim Johnsen looking on.
Dunleavy has said most of his vetoes will stand, but he has walked back the hard line taken on funding for senior citizens and education.
The initial cut triggered enough angst among Alaskans for a recall to be launched two weeks ago against Dunleavy.
The steep cuts also led Moody’s Investors Service to issue a steep credit rating downgrade, which would make it more costly to borrow money for various projects.
“My intention was never to cause angst,” Dunleavy said in an afternoon news briefing. “My intention was to close this budget gap as much as possible and start a discussion as to what is important to Alaska and what is not. That’s what this is all about.”
Johnsen said the uncertainty created short-term damage but he believes the university’s mission remains strong.
“I believe it has damaged the university in terms of its ability to recruit and retain top quality faculty and staff,” he said. “I believe it’s also damaged the university’s ability to enroll students. No question about that," he said. "But that’s done, so our task at this point is to look forward, as we use this language pivot to the positive.”
The university president reiterated sentiments from regents Chair Davies that UA is here to stay.
“We stand in a very long tradition of an important role universities play in building their states. There is no great state without a great university. Period. End of report,” he said.
UAA Chancellor Cathy Sandeen described the agreement as good news in an online address to students Wednesday, though she acknowledged there will be challenges ahead.
"That's a substantial change," she said. "We can breathe a sigh of relief. A lot of things can go back to normal."
In prepared statements, lawmakers later weighed in with some crediting the statewide push back on the initial cuts.
“Alaskans deserve a strong university system,” said House Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, who also serves on the House Finance Committee. “If citizens wonder whether their voices carry any weight with policymakers, today’s decision makes it abundantly clear that they do.”
The deal between university leaders and Dunleavy brings into question the separation of powers between the Legislative and executive branches.
The Legislature retains appropriating powers, leaving the veto authority to Alaska’s governor.
“While I am supremely grateful that the University of Alaska will not face such drastic cuts today, these vetoes never should have happened in the first place,” said House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham. “I remain concerned about the potential impacts of future reductions, and I firmly stand by the legislature’s role as the appropriating body.”
Last month, the university regents voted toward moving the university to a single accreditation system. Johnsen says he still supports that step. The regents will meet again Sept. 12.
Dave Goldman contributed to this report.
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