Alaska Shoots Itself in the Head, Part 2

tl;dr: We live to fight again another day.

We have been living in a self-imposed crisis since Governor Dunleavy introduced his proposed budget in February 2019. The legislature deliberated long and hard, with a lot of input from people throughout Alaska, and produced a balanced budget on 10 June that had sensible reductions in state expenditures and still enough left over to give every Alaskan a good gob of free money (the mother of all entitlement programs, the Permanent Fund Dividend, or PFD). On 28 June, the last working day of our fiscal year, the governor line-item vetoed the university line and many others back to his proposed budget of February 2019, as though widespread, intense statewide discussions had not occurred. Although most legislators were clearly put out that the governor had ignored all the hard work they had performed in listening and responding to their constituents in constructing the budget they had passed, they were not able to override the governor’s line-item vetoes (he has more power in this than any other governor in the U.S.). The cut to the university was 41% of the state appropriation—absolutely devastating, and implemented as the new fiscal year began.

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An Alaska Break

I really needed to step away from it all for a few days. Not knowing if you’re going to still have a job because there’s been an ideological takeover of state government causes very high stress levels. Just about everyone I know at the university works hard and does a good job. And we have great students that we get to teach and work with. So you do what you’re supposed to do and do a good job and you’re at risk of being fired? Yep. That sucks. Yep. Especially when the need for what you do isn’t going away.

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Alaska Shoots Itself in the Head

This has become a two-level message: emergency and acute emergency. We’re facing an unprecedented 41% budget cut to the university by governor Dunleavy’s choosing (emergency; please write to legislators). And he’s just told us where he most wants those cuts to go (acute emergency; please write to the University of Alaska’s board of regents). I’ll deal with the latter first and segue into the former.

Alaska’s Governor Wipes out University Research and Museum
URGENT: On Friday afternoon we learned that governor Dunleavy has proposed to completely cut the state appropriation to the museum and to all of the university’s annual investments in research. (A copy is here.*) We’re asking our many supporters to email the University of Alaska Board of Regents now at urging them to reject this proposal when they meet in emergency session to consider it on Tuesday. This very same email address goes to the university president, too: They declared financial exigency at last week’s meeting due to the governor’s line-item veto budget cut to the university of a staggering 41% – on top of five years of cumulative budget cuts we’ve already undergone. In a second step, we’re hoping you will email support for the university to Alaska’s legislators, too, as they try to return most of the governor’s cuts to the university through a supplemental spending bill. Personally, I am sending my comments to both at the same time (instructions below).

As you know, education and research are integrally tied together at a modern university. The vast majority of UA faculty have a combined teaching-research-service appointment. Training the next generation’s workforce requires hands-on experience with research. It’s how we teach students to creatively and intelligently solve real-world problems. It’s how we develop new knowledge to make the world better for all of us.

The University of Alaska Museum of the North has world-class collections in many disciplines, documenting and safeguarding Alaska’s natural and cultural history and making it available to students and researchers from Alaska and worldwide. At the museum we would not be able to function without our state appropriation, which is spent on curation and collections management to fulfill our legal obligations as a collections repository. We also do a lot of student training and, yes, some research, too. We are a very lean, highly functional unit with partnerships in collections, education, research, and exhibits throughout Alaska and the world. And no, we can’t recover this cut through increasing fees, as the governor has proposed (they did zero research on this). We already recover a lot, and we’ve tweaked that pretty hard during the past five years of budget cuts.

The economic argument for rejecting these cuts is powerful, too. For every dollar the University of Alaska Fairbanks puts into research, we get back 3-6 dollars (depending on unit), mostly from federal grants. But it’s a partnership. If we pull out, those grants won’t come here. They will go to faculty and students in other states. So the money the state spends on university research is well spent for the excellent training it gives our students and the knowledge it develops, and it is a superb direct investment in the state’s economy. Here at UAF, the state’s only PhD-granting institution, $19 million in state research spending each year is turned into about $132 million. So cutting UAF research will have an outsized economic impact in Alaska’s Interior, now and long into the future (it takes decades to build this kind of expertise and competitiveness for federal funding).

We do not understand why the governor is doing this grave damage to the university and to the state when he promised otherwise before being elected (Dunleavy’s lies). It is ideological, and it is extreme. And make no mistake—it is a choice he has made; we are not in a fiscal emergency. The legislature passed a balanced budget that still gave away free money to Alaska citizens (the permanent fund dividend, or PFD). This entitlement program and the governor’s ideology are at the center of the problems we find ourselves in. A petition to recall the governor starts later this week (URLs at bottom).

The majority of Alaskans and his own party oppose his outrageous budget cuts, but he is the most powerful governor in the country, with line-item veto authority and a 75% super-supermajority required to override those vetoes. His mismanagement of the state thus far has us in chaos. (See some of the details here and here). His insertion into the regents’ job of managing the university is unprecedented, as are these levels of budget cuts.

I hope you will write to the board of regents and urge them to reject this proposal to cut research and the museum from the university’s future. We are in a state of financial exigency, so things are moving very fast.

I also hope you will write our legislators, but emailing the board of regents is the first and most time-sensitive step. The legislators are in Juneau working to pass a supplemental spending bill that restores most of the governor’s line-item vetoes. That will also be subject to more line-item vetoes, and we will almost certainly need your support, especially you Alaskans, to tell our legislators how important the university and museum are to the state. I am sending them all (board and legislators) the same message right now. Instructions for contacting the legislature are also given below.

Alaskans—please do write to our legislators, and consider signing the recall petition, which begins on 1 August (more on both below).

Thanks for your support!

Kevin Winker
Professor and Curator

*Sorry, this form is hard to understand. UGF = University General Fund, the state appropriation; DGF/Other/Fed is other income. The governor’s Office of Management and Budget is taking away 100% of the state allocation for the museum (actually a little more; that number is higher than last year’s funding from the state), and it turns out to be 100% for UAF Organized Research, etc. It graciously allows us to spend the other income we receive and then produces a ludicrous “Total funds reduction” calculation to look like it’s somehow not 100% of the state allocation. Our fiscal year 20 (FY2020) began on 1 July. Yes, that means on 19 July a large number of key parts of the university were proposed to be instantly zeroed out by the governor (though we only learned of it on the afternoon of 26 July.

More information about the university is here.

More information about the museum is here.

Recall petition:
Initial article. Update. Go to a signing event near you:

UA mission statement: “The University of Alaska inspires learning, and advances and disseminates knowledge through teaching, research, and public service, emphasizing the North and its diverse peoples.” Regents’ Policy 01.01.01

From the board: “Written testimony is accepted at any time and is shared with the board and the president. Please submit to: “

To email Alaska’s legislators, go to this page, open the bar for each respective branch (House, Senate), and there is one button to email all the members of each branch. The easiest way I’ve found to use it is to right click on that button, choose ‘copy email address’, and paste that massive email grab into your email’s To: field.

P.S. Guided by a pro, let me suggest emailing all of the individuals mentioned above. Cut and paste these emails:,,,,,,,,,,,,

email entire house:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

email entire senate:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

All Decked Out

For years I’ve been patching our deck by swapping out surface boards as they rotted. The original builders hadn’t used treated boards, and the previous owners hadn’t painted it, either. So it had slowly deteriorated. I put in treated 2x6s, so it was increasingly sturdy. But I stepped right through it on an old but sound-looking board in the fall, and then the lower structure started to give way as some of the joist ends rotted. All winter I kept thinking about what it would be like if a moose walked onto it and broke a leg. So we made plans to get it replaced in spring.

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Alaska is baking and burning. We’re also on the threshold of the most radical budget cuts that the state has ever seen—a self-inflicted fiscal catastrophe caused by our governor’s desire to give out the maximum amount of free money possible. That, and he lied his way into office by promising not to make all the cuts he’s now singlehandedly imposing.

Governor Dunleavy’s lies are detailed by Dermot Cole here.

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