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Furlough notices being sent to University of Alaska staff

July 2, 2019

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Furlough notices were being sent Monday to about 2,500 University of Alaska staff, part of the fallout of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s veto of $130 million for the system.

University system President Jim Johnsen last week said the cut, if it stands, would be devastating. The veto is on top of a $5 million reduction authorized by lawmakers, and Johnsen said it follows a series of cuts in recent years.

The notices, warning of 10 furlough days, were being sent Monday, said Monique Musick, a spokeswoman for the university system. Johnsen also said the system is instituting hiring, travel and contract freezes.

Johnsen, in a letter to the university community, said the cut was targeted at the campuses in Anchorage and Fairbanks and statewide administration.

He has asked university supporters to contact lawmakers and urge them to override the veto, which would require 45 of the Legislature’s 60 members. Absent an override, Johnsen said he will prepare for consideration by the Board of Regents a declaration that would allow the university “to more rapidly discontinue programs and academic units, and to start the unprecedented process of removing tenured faculty.”

The university was among the areas hit by vetoes. Other areas include health and social service, education and environmental programs and public broadcasting.

Dunleavy vetoed funding for the Ocean Rangers program, created by an initiative in 2006 and calling for onboard observers on certain large cruise ships monitoring compliance with discharge requirements. The program is funded through fees.

Joe Geldhof, an attorney involved in the 2006 initiative, said Dunleavy’s veto of Ocean Rangers money doesn’t wipe the law creating the program off the books. He called it a political mistake.

“It’s not like we don’t need enforcement,” he said, adding later: “If he had problems with how the Ocean Ranger program was being administered, then make it more efficient. Don’t just veto the money from it.”

House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, an Anchorage Republican, in a statement Friday said if his 15-member caucus decides to revisit any of Dunleavy’s cuts, it wants to do so through a separate budget bill rather than an override.

In an interview Monday, he said it would be political gamesmanship and an effort to make members look bad if a joint session to consider overrides was called and leaders knew they lacked sufficient votes to overturn Dunleavy’s cuts.

“That doesn’t show that you’re truly trying to work with people to come to something that’s best for Alaska. It’s you trying to humiliate them and their communities,” he said.

Democratic Rep. Adam Wool of Fairbanks said Monday he hopes common sense prevails and the university cut in particular is overridden.

The overall cut to the university system this year, with the veto, would be in line with what Dunleavy proposed previously. Wool said he thought Dunleavy’s initial proposal was “crazy talk.”

“We have to push back against this,” Wool said. “It’s his first year, and he’s trying to see what he can get away with and how hard he can push us, I guess.”

Dunleavy took office in December. One of his major campaign proposals was a payout of a full dividend to residents from the state’s oil-wealth fund, the Alaska Permanent Fund. A full payout would cost an estimated $1.9 billion and equate to checks of about $3,000 this year. Many legislators say that’s not sustainable, as the state has begun using fund earnings, long used to pay dividends, to also help cover government costs and with no serious consideration of new statewide taxes or changes to existing ones.

The state has struggled for years with a deficit that’s persisted amid low to middling oil prices. The dividend is the focus of a special session scheduled to start next Monday.

Dunleavy and legislative leaders have clashed over the location of the special session. The constitution states the Legislature has five days after convening a special session to take up any vetoes.

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