Advancing Advocacy

Juneau Community active in FY-20 budget hearings


Editor-in-Chief, UAS Whalesong 

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed fiscal year 2020 budget has been the talk of the state for the past month.

The budget is the state’s financial plan for the upcoming fiscal year, an accounting of income and expenditures. Dunleavy has proposed a budget where expenditures equal revenues with no additional funds from Alaskans. The resulting reductions in programs and services, including the University of Alaska, have raised the ire of many Alaskans, while others agree with the governor’s approach.

 UA President Jim Johnsen has said the governor’s proposed cut of $134 million over the university’s current year budget would devastate the system. UA reductions are just one part of the overall budget, which makes major reductions to almost all parts of state government, including K-12 education, the Alaska Marine Highway System, and Medicaid.

Budget approval is a complicated process that involves weeks of deliberation in both the Alaska House and Senate. Public comment and testimony are encouraged throughout the process, and many UA students, faculty and staff have been advocating for the university system at the state legislature.  

 Juneau residents and other Southeast Alaskans arrived in force at the capitol building on March 22 to weigh in on the budget. The House Finance Committee hearing kicked off a series of budget hearings in other parts of the state through April.

UAS student Calvin Zuelow said he attended not only to ensure student voices were heard on the UA budget but on other budget cuts.

  “Cuts to education and state Medicaid spending in this budget are just terrible for Alaska. They really endanger the fiscal and actual health of this state. I really just want to make sure that state spending on services is prioritized in the budget,” Zuelow said.  

 UAS student and U.S. Army veteran Matthew Berry also testified at the hearing.  

 “I don’t think most folks realize the gravity of the situation and how it can affect the university,” Berry said. “These cuts of 134 million dollars to the university feel like a betrayal.”

 This was not the first time Berry and Zuelow have spoken out against the budget. Berry said he has been actively writing letters to the legislature and Gov. Dunleavy.   

 Throughout the legislative session, there have been opportunities for public comment, rallies on the steps of the Capitol Building, letter writing parties and legislative advocacy training. These are just the building blocks for student advocacy across the UA system.

Matt Berry gave public comment during the March 22 session

 During a legislative advocacy training session, Assistant Professor of Public Administration Jim Powell offered tips for communicating with elected officials.

 Communication should “build relationships and understanding” while “furthering the truth and science,” Powell said during a PowerPoint presentation.

 He also recommended that people offer solutions when discussing their issues.

 That’s what many people did during the March hearings, when they volunteered to pay a state income tax and accept a cut to their Permanent Fund Dividend instead of giving up government services to balance the budget.

 “I urge you to institute an income tax so our great state can move into a solid, sustainable, and bright future,” Allison Bidlack told legislators at the March 22nd hearing. (Director of the Alaska Coastal Rainforest Center at UAS, Bidlack was testifying on her own behalf.)

As the budget continues to move through the state House and Senate, advocacy is imperative.

 UA Associate Vice President of Government Relations Miles Baker said the budget process is far from over.

 “It is very unlikely that we will know the final budget numbers before the session ends, which at this point looks to be mid-May,” Baker told the Whalesong in an email.

 “There is a lot of political ground to cover between now and then. I expect the real show will be after the legislature passes the budget to the Gov. It is likely going to be much larger than the Gov. would like and therefore negotiations will commence and may take a while,” Baker wrote.  

 Visibility will be a key factor in student advocacy efforts. Many UA students updated their Facebook profile pictures with the “I LOVE UAS” frame to show their support for the UA system.

 The blue and green banner of the frame lit up Facebook and was a great start to student efforts.

 UA Strong is a Facebook page created to help coordinate advocacy events and keep the UA community up-to-date with legislative decisions.  

 Social media is at everyone’s fingertips – use it to show your support for the UA system.

 Follow UA Strong, UASoutheast, and UAS Whalesong on Facebook and Instagram for up-to-date information on advocacy events and legislative reports. 

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