The editor implores students to stand up for their   education


Editor-in-Chief, UAS Whalesong 

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has proposed a budget cut that would, according to University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen, devastate the University of Alaska system.  

“When our budgets are cut, enrollment follows, because we have fewer faculty, fewer courses, fewer programs,” Johnsen told KUAC in February. The public radio station is operated by the University of Alaska Fairbanks. 

“And if this budget goes into effect, we will have many fewer faculty and staff, many fewer campuses and programs and offerings to provide students,” he said.

UAS is already suffering from low enrollment. A deeper budget cut may force even more students out of Alaska. 

The governor’s proposed cut is $134 million of state dollars, about 41 percent below the current UA system operating budget. Those funds come from the general fund, which are unrestricted. All other funds are restricted to certain uses. 

A cut of this magnitude would “pose a major challenge for higher education in Alaska,” said UAS Chancellor Rick Caulfield. 

In his State of the State address on Jan. 22, Dunleavy said “Alaskan’s believe our state budget process is a mess.”   

When he unveiled the budget proposal on Feb. 13, he described it as “straightforward and open. A budget where expenditures equal revenues.” 

The complex state budget process takes months to complete.

“The way the budget starts is as a proposal submitted by the governor to the legislature. That’s where we’re at right now—the governor’s budget proposal has been written and submitted to the legislature,” said Glenn Wright, UAS Associate Professor of Political Science. 

“An important part of the legislative process is for bills to be heard by committees. Usually, committees will meet several times, take official and public testimony on a particular bill, and make changes to bills before they decide to hold a bill (keep it from advancing to the next stage) or pass a bill on to the next committee or stage,” he said.

Now is the time to make concerns about UA cuts known to the legislature.  

Once the state budget has passed both houses, it goes back to the governor to be signed into law. In the state of Alaska, the governor has budget line-item veto  power, meaning he can change certain parts of the budget.

“I don’t think the governor has ever vetoed an entire budget in Alaska, but line item veto authority is not uncommon—for example, the line item veto was the tool that Bill Walker used to reduce the size of PFDs each of the last several years,” Wright said. 

It takes a three-fourths majority vote of the Legislature to override a budget veto.

“It’s pretty rare that the Legislature is able to get enough votes to override these vetoes,” Wright said.    

The final budget would go into effect on July 1. 

Sign at the Feb. 13 UA Rally on the steps of the Capitol building. 

The university has faced reductions in four of the last five years, but not to the tune of 41 percent. 

“A proposed cut of this magnitude, $134 million, cannot be managed in the same way,” Johnsen said. He said all options would be on the table. 

Cuts to higher education are happening nationwide. Student groups all over the country have mobilized to show state legislators that higher education is not expendable. 

Almost 10 years ago, the California State University system faced similar budget cuts that raised tuition and cut programs. Students took action and quickly organized protests, demonstrations and strikes to show the California State Legislature that they would not have their education taken away.

UAS students should follow this model of visibility. Don’t be quiet — be loud. Don’t sit down– stand up. Write to your representative and senator, testify at public legislative hearings, participate and organize demonstrations, use social media to broadcast what your education means to you. 

“I love helping kids, and I love learning and teaching,” Governor Dunleavy also said in his State of the State address.

If Dunleavy believes in education, then seeing students up-in-arms may persuade him to restore state education funding. 

UAS Campus Conservatives report the UA budget reduction at 17 percent. It all depends on the source. A 17 percent cut would come from the overall budget, including all revenue sources, while a 41 percent cut comes from the undesignated state general fund, which is used for state operations, including the university system as well as basic services and construction projects and maintenance. 

The result is the same: UA would go from $327 million in state funding to $193 million. 

We need to tell our story. University of Alaska students must show Alaska that they are indeed the future of the state. 

Leave a Reply