SMOOTH SAILING – A troller cruises across Sitka Sound during a hazy sunset Friday evening. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

UA Regents Delay Downsizing Decision

By DAN JOLING
Associated Press
    ANCHORAGE (AP) — The University of Alaska Board of Regents on Monday postponed a decision that would have allowed administrators to bypass usual procedures for cutting programs and personnel.
    Regents face a 41% cut in state funding for the university but delayed declaring a “financial exigency” that would allowed rapid downsizing through expedited layoffs of tenured staff.
    “I think the board wanted to give the political process a little more time, and that makes sense,” university President Jim Johnsen said in a phone interview afterward.
    The board will hold an informational meeting next week and will gather again July 30 for a formal consideration of the declaration.
    Gov. Mike Dunleavy last month used line-item vetoes to eliminate $130 million in state funding from the university budget. University administrators say the impact will be greater because fewer students will enroll and pay tuition and researchers will lose grants and contract work with federal agencies.
    Lawmakers failed to reach the three-quarter majority threshold last week to override the vetoes. About one-third of the legislature, including most members of the House minority and a handful of senators, stayed away from the Capitol in a dispute about where a special legislative session called by Dunleavy should have been held.
    Republican Sen. Click Bishop, near tears and with his voice cracking, apologized to regents, who face major institutional decisions and minimal time to make them.
    “I want to say I’m sorry,” Bishop said. “This should never have happened.”
    The House Finance Committee met Monday morning in Anchorage to consider the size of dividends to be paid out from the Alaska Permanent Fund and adopted a bill that would restore money that Dunleavy vetoed. That measure also could be vetoed, but Bishop pledged to find additional support among his colleagues.
    “I’m not done, and we’re going to turn this around,” he said.
    Johnsen said he has been in contact with Dunleavy and that the governor is operating from a position of power after seeing the override vote fail. Johnsen said he’s focusing on the budget in hand rather than how it might be enhanced in the next few weeks.
    At the current level of spending, the university would have to cut $11 million per month through next June to balance its budget. Delaying reductions until October would mean having to cut $15 million monthly.
    “Every day we delay only compounds the cuts we need to take later in the year,” Johnsen said.
    But regents were hesitant to take immediate action while legislators negotiate with Dunleavy.
    Regent Andy Teuber called for waiting until July 30 or the vote on a declaration of exigency, given the monumental scope of the decision and the ongoing discussions.
    Regent Lisa Parker said she was unwilling to waive normal procedures without a plan for reductions. “It scares me terribly,” she said.
    Regent Darroll Hargraves told Johnsen to assure Dunleavy that regents were willing to make cuts but needed a longer “glide path” to do so.
    Maria Williams, chairwoman of the University of Alaska Faculty Alliance, urged regents to hold off on decisions until they had tapped into the expertise and suggestions of faculty.
    Johnsen said regents could take one of three approaches and all have pros and cons.
    Administrators could simply cut every campus by a certain percentage, which would keep the current university structure but would be disabling to every unit, Johnsen said. Administrators could eliminate a major campus and some of the 13 satellite campuses. A third alternative is uniting all three major campuses under one accrediting banner and making strategic reductions, such as limiting fields of study to one campus each, Johnsen said.

Legislators Again Fail To Overturn Vetoes

By DAN JOLING
Associated Press
    ANCHORAGE (AP) — Minority members of the Alaska House of Representatives and a handful of state senators today again refused to join colleagues at a special session in Juneau, thwarting efforts to overturn budget vetoes by Gov. Mike Dunleavy.
    The deadline for overturning vetoes, which critics say could devastate the Alaska economy, is Friday night.
    More than a third of the 60-member Legislature, including 16 members of the House Minority and five state senators, missed today’s joint session.
    Dunleavy called for the special session to be in Wasilla, his hometown and the home of his conservative base. Senate and House leaders, citing security, access and expense, decided to instead to meet at the Capitol in Juneau.
    The missing lawmakers have been gathering at a makeshift legislative hall in the gymnasium of a Wasilla middle school. They say the Juneau session is an illegal gathering and they will not attend.
    In anguished floor speeches, lawmakers warned of harm to vulnerable Alaskans and severe damage to the state economy if vetoes were not overturned.
    “Please join us,” said Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, a 20-year legislative veteran and the son of an author of the Alaska Constitution. “The people of Alaska need your voice. We can’t do it without you.”
    Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, the co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, called his missing colleagues “dissidents” who were not fulfilling their sworn duty.
    “The real  issue is they’re not here,” he said.
    The absent lawmakers, he said, had thwarted his right to argue in favor of money to expand a Ketchikan dock. The dock expansion is needed for Ketchikan to home-port a federal hydrographic survey vessel.
    “I want my constitutional rights back,” he said.
    Dunleavy, a first-term Republican who took office in December, vetoed more than $400 million from the state operating budget.
    About one-third of his vetoes fell on the University of Alaska, which saw its state funding cut by 41%. University of Alaska officials say the system will lose $135 million on top of a $51 million cut over the past six years, which resulted in the loss of 1,200 faculty and staff members and 50 academic and degree programs.
    Officials warned as many as 2,000 more staff and faculty would be lost, including 700 at UA Anchorage, along with 40 degree programs.
    Coghill said the Fairbanks-area economy has three pillars: the University of Alaska, the military and a combination of tourism and mining. When Defense Department officials in 2005 prepared to shutter Eielson Air Force Base, Fairbanks officials argued persuasively that the University of Alaska offered excellent education opportunities for military personnel and their families, Coghill said.
    The university supplies training that supports the others pillars of the economy, he said.
    “One-third of my economy is going to drag the rest of the community with it,” Coghill said.
    Dunleavy also vetoed money for low-income senior citizens, public broadcasting, the state arts council, drug rehabilitation and battered women’s shelters.
    He reduced spending for Medicaid, reimbursement to communities for school construction, the Civil Air Patrol, and ocean monitors on cruise ships.
    Sen. Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage, on Wednesday accused missing colleagues of using the session location to duck the veto override vote.
    “It’s a red herring to mask the real issues of what we are facing here today,” she said.
    Dunleavy’s vetoes, she said, will “bite us hard in the future” when patients who lost Medicaid show up in emergency rooms, homeless people turned away from shelters commit crimes, drug addicts lose treatment and bright young minds leave Alaska for opportunities elsewhere.
    Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, also called the location dispute an excuse to avoid a courageous decision.
    “It’s difficult to stand up to your party,” she said. “It’s difficult to stand up to your governor. But the cost to the state of Alaska is huge.”
    Alaskans pay no state income or sales tax and receive annual checks from earnings of the Alaska Permanent Fund, a savings account created with oil wealth and grown over decades by investment earnings. Since 1996, the checks have exceeded $1,000 all but four years.
    Dunleavy has called for a dividend check of $3,000 and has refused to consider new taxes. He said last week that he based the budget vetoes on a desire to provide basic services “while understanding our fiscal constraints.”
    Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, said the past two days were two of the hardest of his life.
    “I know that the things we are doing will potentially break this place,” Begich said.
   

Legislators Short Votes to Override

By DAN JOLING
Associated Press
     The Alaska Legislature failed today to override budget vetoes by Gov. Mike Dunleavy that will prompt a massive 41 percent cut of state funding to the University of Alaska and lay waste to other programs the governor deemed unaffordable.
    Forty five votes — a three-fourths majority of the 60 members of the state Senate and House — were required to override the vetoes by Dunleavy, a Republican who took office in December.
    More than one-third of legislators did not attend the special session in Juneau. All but one in attendance, Rep. Tammie Wilson, a North Pole Republican, voted to override but the effort still fell short with a 37-1 vote.
    The 14 members of the Senate who were present, including Sitka’s Republican senator Bert Stedman, voted to override the vetoes. Sitka’s Rep. Jonathan Kreis-Tomkins was in the 23 House members supporting the override.
    The special session began Monday and the Legislature has until midnight Friday to again consider veto overrides.
    Dunleavy also vetoed funding for a program that provides money to low-income senior citizens and state support for public broadcasting, the state arts council and ocean rangers who monitor cruise ship discharges.
    He reduced spending for Medicaid, social service programs, reimbursement to communities for school construction, and the Civil Air Patrol, which provides training and search-and-rescue services for Alaska’s flying community.
    He cut $334,700 for appellate courts, the same amount spent on abortion services through Medicaid in fiscal year 2018. Dunleavy opposed a state Supreme Court ruling in February that Alaska must fund abortion services through Medicaid.
    Alaskans pay no state income or sales tax and receive annual checks of more than $1,000 from earnings of the Alaska Permanent Fund, a savings account created with oil wealth and grown over decades by investment earnings.
    Dunleavy has refused to consider new taxes or to tap into earnings from the permanent fund, as the Legislature has done for several years. He said last week that he based the budget vetoes on a desire to provide basic services “while understanding our fiscal constraints.”
    Critics say the cuts go too far and many turned out at rallies to protest. A crowd of nearly 2,000 people that gathered Tuesday night at UA Anchorage featured Portugal. The Man, a Grammy Award-winning band from Wasilla.
    University of Alaska officials say the system will lose $135 million on top of a $51 million cut over the past six years, which resulted in the loss of 1,200 faculty and staff members and 50 academic and degree programs.
    The officials warned that if the veto was not overridden, as many as 2,000 more staff and faculty would be lost, including 700 at UA Anchorage, along with 40 degree programs.
    Officials outside Alaska were beginning to take notice. A faculty group, United Academics, distributed a letter from Sonny Ramaswarmy, president of the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, warning that UA accreditation could be jeopardized if student achievement is affected by budget cuts.
    The absent lawmakers stayed away from the vote Wednesday because of an ongoing dispute about where the Legislature should meet.
    Dunleavy called the special session and declared it should be held in his hometown of Wasilla, a city of 8,275 people about 43 miles (69 kilometers) north of Anchorage and in the heart of his conservative base.
    Senate President Cathy Giessel, an Anchorage Republican, and House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, an Independent from Dillingham, instead opted to meet at the capitol in Juneau, a decision that minority Republicans in the House said was illegal.
    Six senators were absent or excused Wednesday. Sixteen representatives stayed away. Many gathered at a makeshift legislative hall set up at a Wasilla middle school.
    Anchorage television station KTUU reported that protesters in Wasilla shouted over the lawmakers during an invocation and a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.
    The demonstrators took seats in a gymnasium that carried lawmakers’ names and chanted “Override 45!” referring to the number of lawmakers’ votes required to override the governor’s vetoes, and “Don’t hide, override!”


   

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Alaska COVID-19
At a Glance

(updated 8-4-20)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 12:30 a.m. Tuesday.

New cases as of Monday: 59

Total statewide – 3,394

Total (cumulative) deaths – 25

Active cases in Sitka – 17 (12 resident; 5 non-resident) *

Recovered cases in Sitka – 15 (11 resident; 4 non-resident) *

The state says the cumulative number of cases hospitalized is 136.

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

* These numbers reflect State of Alaska data. Local cases may not immediately appear on DHSS site, or are reported on patient’s town of residence rather than Sitka’s statistics. 

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Welcome to the Sitka Sentinel's web page. In order to make the Sentinel's news more easily available during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have taken down the paywall to access articles on this page. Just click on an article headline to read the story. 

March 23, 2020

NOTICE FROM THE PUBLISHERS

TO READERS AND ADVERTISERS

For the duration of the COVID-19 disaster emergency declared by federal, state and local authorities, the Sentinel is taking additional measures to reduce virus exposure to its employees and contractors as well as to the public, while continuing to publish a daily news report for Sitka.

To the extent possible, Sentinel news and sales staff will be working from home. For the protection of our carriers, home delivery of the newspaper will be stopped effective Tuesday, March 24.

The Sentinel will continue to publish on its website sitkasentinel.com. Access to the website will be free to all users. The Sentinel will also produce a print edition Monday through Friday. It will be available to all readers without charge, at locations throughout town.

Initially, these locations are those where the Sentinel's newspaper vending machines are already in place. The coin mechanisms will be disabled or the doors removed to permit easy access. The Sentinel will work with the stores where the paper is usually sold, to designate a place inside or outside the store where the free edition can be made available.  

Home delivery subscriptions are on hold, and after the end of the disaster emergency, subscriptions will be extended at no charge for the number of days that there was no home delivery.

The Sentinel will make its print edition available to the public as early in the day as possible. with all personnel taking precautions to prevent spread of the virus.

The Sentinel is calling upon its customers to observe the COVID-19 emergency precautions already in place, particularly in maintaining a six-foot social distance from others at newspaper distribution sites.

Following is the statement issued by the Sentinel on March 16, stating the Sentinel's emergency procedures, which remain in effect.

The Sentinel office at 112 Barracks Street is closed to the public. We encourage people to use the phone, email or the U.S. Postal Service as much as possible.There is a slot in the front door of the office for ads, news items and payment checks. Emails may be sent to  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and the phone number is (907) 747-3219.                                                                          

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20 YEARS AGO
August 2000

The School Board Tuesday discussed district policy on head lice. At present, students found to have head lice are kept from school until all lice are removed. The revised policy allows students who have nits to remain in school, with information on treatment and a nit-removing comb to be sent home with them.

50 YEARS AGO
August 1970

Legal notice: Sealed bids will be received ... for furnishing and installation of siding on the City
Garage, located on Halibut Point Road. ... City of Sitka, Alaska Fermin Gutierrez, Director of Public Works. 

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