HANGING ART – Raven Shaw hangs up art at her booth for the Sitka Artisans Market this afternoon at Harrigan Centennial Hall. Her business, Raven's Random, sells original art stickers and prints. The market opens tonight and runs through Sunday. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Regents Approve $277M For UA Budget request

    ANCHORAGE (AP) — Alaska university board regents approved a $277 million operating budget request following a plan previously negotiated by university leaders and Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy.
    The University of Alaska Board of Regents voted unanimously Friday to cut the university system’s budget request by $25 million for the 2020-21 school year, school officials said. The decrease is part of a three-year plan to reduce the budget by $25 million this academic year, an additional $25 million next year and by $20 million the following year.
    Under the recent approval, the University of Alaska Anchorage is set to lose $9.1 million in direct state support, the University of Alaska Fairbanks is set to lose $12.3 million and the remaining cuts would be received by the University of Alaska Southeast and other remote campuses, officials said. It is not clear what programs or staff would be affected by the decision.
    “The compact agreement actually benefited the university over a three-year period by $260 million,” University President Jim Johnsen said compared to Dunleavy’s original one-year cut proposal. The budget cut is also subject to state Legislature approval.
    The board originally planned to vote on a proposed 5% tuition increase for the coming fall semester but unanimously agreed to postpone the vote until January after student opposition, regents said.
    The Anchorage and Fairbanks universities were also told to continue with their individual athletic programs for the 2020-21 season, following an October announcement to table the idea of consolidating into a single-accredited university until 2021, officials said. The future for both athletic programs after the 2020-21 season remains uncertain.
    The next full board meeting is scheduled for Jan. 17 in Anchorage.

State Out to Hire Outside Help in Union Dues Case

    JUNEAU (AP) — Attorney General Kevin Clarkson’s office is seeking to hire outside attorneys to help defend his decision that changes are needed in the way Alaska collects union dues.
    A request for proposals, issued Thursday, estimates a budget of $500,000 to $600,000 for the work.
    In an early blow to the state, a judge has granted a public employee union’s request to block while the case is heard implementation of Clarkson’s opinion and a subsequent administrative order from Gov. Mike Dunleavy.
    Clarkson said the state isn’t fully compliant with a U.S. Supreme Court decision that found government workers can’t be forced to contribute to labor unions that represent them in collective bargaining.
    Superior Court Judge Gregory Miller, in a preliminary ruling, said the state’s new policy is “unsupported by applicable case law.”   

Attorneys Sue State Over Pioneer Home Rate Hikes

    KETCHIKAN (AP) — Attorneys in Alaska have filed a lawsuit that seeks to reverse a recent rate increase in a group of state-owned homes providing assisted living care, according to court records.
    The lawsuit filed in Ketchikan Superior Court Monday asks a judge to issue a preliminary and permanent injunction against rate increases at Pioneer Homes, news organizations reported.
    The lawsuit names as defendants the state of Alaska, Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum and Pioneer Homes Director Clinton Lasley.
    The Sept. 1 rate changes increased the cost of a Pioneer Home bed by between 40% and 140%.
    “Our argument is that these rate hikes are unjust and stopping them will limit injury to the 497 residents of the Pioneer Homes,” said Elizabeth Bakalar, one of the attorneys who filed the suit.
    The initial filing by Bakalar and Vance Sanders is on behalf of Ketchikan Pioneer Home resident Eileen Casey and Juneau Pioneer Home residents Marion and Howard Rider. As a class-action lawsuit, the case has been filed on behalf of all Pioneer Homes residents, which the assigned judge will need to certify before considering the merits of the case.
    Marion Rider saw her monthly rate increase from $4,692 to $11,185, while Casey’s monthly rate increased from $4,600 to $10,606. Casey has been threatened with eviction due to $95,000 in debt accumulated before she was approved for Medicaid, according to the lawsuit.
    The Alaska Department of Law needs to review the complaint, but it generally does not discuss ongoing cases, Assistant Attorney General Maria Bahr said in an email.   

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