State releases scholarship, medical school program funding

Gov says funds no longer part of ‘the sweep’

Nearly $140 million in state funding was released by the Office of Management and Budget Wednesday following an order from Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

A large part of the state’s budget remains unfunded as political deadlock has prevented lawmakers from reaching the three-quarter vote necessary to access funds in the state’s Constitutional Budget Reserve, but in a letter to legislative leadership, Dunleavy wrote that the funds being released were not subject to the sweep.

The funding released includes monies for the state scholarship programs, including the Alaska Performance Scholarship and the Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Idaho Program at the University of Washington School of Medicine as well as items like school debt reimbursement and behavioral health programs.

Funding for capital projects is being released as well, according to OMB documents, including for road projects in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, roof repair for the Palmer Pioneer’s Home and deferred maintenance projects statewide.

Dunleavy ordered the release of the money following an Anchorage Superior Court ruling regarding funding for the Power Cost Equalization program and a state accounting mechanism known as the sweep. At the end of each fiscal year on July 1, several state accounts are emptied into the CBR, which needs a three-quarter vote to access. In 2019, Dunleavy’s former Attorney General Kevin Clarkson issued an opinion stating PCE funding would for the first time be part of the sweep, a position many lawmakers and rural communities disagreed with.

[Judge orders release of Power Cost Equalization funds]

PCE was funded for the past two years, but when legislative deadlock earlier this summer raised the possibility the program might not receive funding, the Alaska Federation of Natives and several other tribal entities filed a lawsuit against the governor and won. An Anchorage Superior Court ruled on Aug. 11 PCE funding was to be released and shouldn’t have been subject to the sweep at all. The administration chose not to appeal the ruling to the Alaska Supreme Court, and in his letter Wednesday Dunleavy noted his order didn’t question the court’s decision.

In a statement, University of Alaska Interim President Pat Pitney thanked Dunleavy for releasing $21.4 million for the Alaska Performance Scholarship and the WWAMI program, the state’s only doctor training program.

“With this year’s scholarships and grant funding secured, we will now focus our attention on ensuring the source of funding for these programs, the Higher Education Investment Fund, is restored so these programs are funded for the long-term,” Pitney said.

Pitney announced in July the university would continue to honor grant and scholarship funding for students in anticipation the funds would eventually be made available. The governor’s order Wednesday provides stable year-long funding for the program, Pitney said.

Contact reporter Peter Segall at Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.