Budget Update: May 23, 2022

Dan White, chancellor
UAF photo by JR Ancheta
Chancellor Dan White

— by Dan White, chancellor

Since the closing of the 32nd legislature I have been asked by a growing number of people what the next steps are in the budget, what the budget means to us, and what we should make of the lack of agreement between UNAC and UA negotiating teams.

Last week President Pitney shared the outcomes of the 32nd legislative session with the UA community. What next? As a bit of background, while the legislature is in session, a bill becomes law if the Governor neither signs nor vetoes it within fifteen days, Sundays excepted, after it’s delivered. If the legislature is not in session, a bill becomes law if the Governor neither signs nor vetoes a bill within twenty days, Sundays excepted, after it’s delivered. The Governor has line item veto authority, which allows him or her to delete/modify language or reduce individual numbers. At this point the legislature has gaveled out but it is my understanding that the budget bills have not yet been transmitted to the governor. That could happen at any time which would start the 20 day clock.

In past years, Governor Dunleavy has vetoed parts of the budget that the legislature added for the University; however, we are optimistic given the Governors’ recent work with and support for the University. When the Governor finishes with the budget I will share that information with you.

There are some game changing items in this years’ budget. We are very grateful for all of the support shown by our constituencies, alumni, business leaders and university advocates including legislators and members of the governor’s staff, that helped carry our message of needed fiscal stability to Juneau. Many of the specifics are included in the President’s message so I won’t restate them here.

In the operating and capital budget bills passed by the legislature, UAF’s research was recognized and supported. This is essential for UAF to continue to build on our history as a world leader in Arctic research as well as support the Alaska economy. While specific research projects have been funded by the state in the past, the level this year is greater than in recent history. This is great news! The funding included in the FY23 budget is specific to individual projects and programs, including our Alaska Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration, rare earth and critical minerals research, heavy oil research and mariculture. Additional support is included for the Alaska Center for Energy and Power for energy initiatives and research and development.

Another potential game changer is the funding in the budget for a $20M upgrade to our student facing technology systems and another $20M+ for the upgrade of Moore and Bartlett’s plumbing systems. This will be a major improvement to our residential living facilities. As UAF’s enrollment continues to grow, this is a big deal. Many other deferred maintenance and capital projects are smaller but also impactful. We are grateful to the house and senate conference committee members for their support, including our local legislators, Senator Click Bishop and Representative Bart LeBon. Thank you!

With respect to the operating budget, staff including Local 6070 and Fire Fighters compensation increases are included as part of the University fixed cost increment. However, compensation increases for represented faculty were not included. I want to take a minute to explain why not. In order for any union member to receive increases, the union contract must be approved as part of the budget. That is state law. In spite of many months of negotiations and federal mediation, UA Labor relations and UNAC negotiating teams did not reach agreement in time for a bilateral agreement to be sent to the legislature.

While both negotiating teams supported faculty salary increases, the amounts were far apart. UA negotiators determined negotiations were at an impasse, which triggered management’s right to implement the best and final offer. This was communicated to the UA community in President Pitney’s message on May 16.  The monetary terms of the best and final offer were submitted to the legislature’s conference committee. Unfortunately, although the conference committee received the university's request for funding, with support from the administration, those adjustments were not taken up by the conference committee at the end of their work. Therefore, there are no monetary terms for UNAC included in the FY23 budget.

I think there is much to celebrate in this year’s legislative session. The budget increases will not fully solve our budget challenges from prior years, but we are in a much different and brighter place than we have been in past years. Enrollment is also on the rise and students are eager to learn all about what UAF has to offer. Fiscal stability will allow UAF to build in strategic ways to achieve our goals, and I look forward to working together in the coming year to create transformative experiences for our students. 

Thanks for choosing UAF.