The University of Alaska faces a partial August 1 shutdown if the Legislature fails to pass an operating budget by July 1, according to a letter UA President Jim Johnsen sent to employees last week. Its constitutional duty to teach students would spare faculty of furloughs, he said.
“Despite the current budget impasse, I want to assure you that the university will continue to provide critical and core services, even in the absence of an appropriation,” he wrote.
The University of Alaska is in a special place with regard to the looming government shutdown. It has been insulated to a degree from the July 1 state government shutdown because its budget and operation is overseen by the Board of Regents. State spending also accounts for just part of the university’s funding.
But with the spectacular failure of the Legislature to pass a budget by the end of the first special session last Friday, Johnsen wrote an update to university employees.
The letter explains that furloughs or layoffs will occur starting August 1, with warnings going out to affected staff on July 1. Teaching faculty and employees involved with security and safety will be spared from the layoffs. Those in educational programs or research programs funded by outside funding will also be spared.
While state shutdown plans have been released and many state employees have already received their layoff warnings, Johnsen explained the delay for UA.
“The University has delayed issuing furlough or layoff notices for a number of reasons,” he wrote. “Those reasons include: many University operations are self-supporting during the summer, and many other University operations are core to our constitutionally mandated mission or are federally mandated, and must continue even in the absence of an appropriation.”
Hope for Juneau
Still, Johnsen appears to be optimistic about the Legislature. In an update sent out Tuesday, he wrote there’s some hope.
“In ongoing conversations with legislative leaders, I hear that progress is being made on our operating budget,” he said. “While we will continue finalizing our contingency plan, which outlines how we would maintain university operations after July 1 in the absence of a state appropriation, given the news I get from Juneau I am cautiously optimistic that we will have an operating budget before the end of this fiscal year.”
He said the Board of Regents will hear an update on the budget at its meeting tomorrow (this was the meeting where he had hoped to present a UA budget for approval). Town halls for faculty and employees will also be held at each campus on Friday.
The House budget
The House all-or-nothing budget passed last week included an $8 million cut to the university’s operating budget. The House and Gov. Bill Walker have so far been pushing for a $325 million funding for the university while the Senate has pushed for an extreme cut down to $303 million. The $8 million cut was part of tens of millions of dollars of cuts the House put forward in an attempt to force a budget deal.
The House argued that the cut isn’t that bad because it’s backstopped by $5 million in capital budget money for deferred maintenance. UA President Jim Johnsen was less thrilled with the number.
“University services would be severely impacted by the House budget number, if it becomes final,” he wrote in the letter Friday. “The House number results in a total reduction of $61 million (16 percent) over the past 4 years; that’s the equivalent of more than twice the UGF operating budget for the University of Alaska Southeast.”