Alarming situation: Sen. Cathy Giessel downplays Dunleavy attack on university

Senate President Cathy Giessel is repeating bogus talking points from the Republican Party, misusing statistics and downplaying the Dunleavy attempt to dismantle the University of Alaska.

The plan is to cut university funding by $134 million, based on a back-of-an-envelope calculation of a mythical and misleading “national average,” plus a “premium,” without regard for the many ways in which Alaska is unlike the other states.

The university has lost 1,300 positions over the past five years and could see another decline of that size under the Dunleavy plan to gut the institution. The general fund cut would lead to cuts in grants and other sources for which the state money provides the required match.

Yet Giessel is repeating false propaganda from the Republican Party.

"There is a lot of alarmed messaging going on out there about the cuts,” she said in a video to Alaskans. “One of them that I'm hearing is that the university budget is being cut by 50 percent. That is absolutely not true. It is a 40 percent reduction, but the university is less than 50 percent funded by the state of Alaska to begin with. So what we're asking them to do is to do what other state universities do, other land grant universities. And that is to tap into grants, to endowment funds and the private sector.”

In other words, the university needs thoughts and prayers and Angel Bucks.

The dream that the university should turn its land holdings into a steady stream of cash never dies, always promoted by people who don’t realize that the university didn’t get much land and that real estate is rarely a cash machine.

The administration and the Republican Party are pushing the bogus notion that the proper way to judge spending levels in Alaska is to compare everything to national averages, failing to admit that this is deceptive unless the unique circumstances of Alaska are taken into consideration.

The unique circumstances of Alaska’s geography, climate, government structure, roadless communities and population are foreign to temporary budget director Donna Arduin, the budget commander under Dunleavy.

“Most other universities like the University of Alaska, are only funded about 25 percent by their state governments. Ours is around 40-47 percent. So there's room there for some adjustments by the university,” Giessel said.

Giessel’s comments, though they were misleading, were not as egregious as those of Arduin, who claimed to the Senate Finance Committee that the real cut to the university is 17 percent, a false number promoted by the Republican Party propaganda machine. Trying to disguise the problem this way is wrong.

That no legislator called Arduin on this lie is striking: “The size of the reduction proposed by the governor has been mischaracterized as over 40 percent, when in fact, as you can see from these bars the reduction is about 17 percent of university funding.”

Her calculation of percentages is distorted by including upwards of $200 million in imaginary money that doesn’t exist. This so-called “hollow authority” is a budget gimmick.

She also pretends that millions in matching federal funds would not disappear and that millions in tuition would not vanish as the university eliminates programs and students head for the Lower 48.

Alaskans deserve a more honest budget than this from state government.

The new website is providing the best detailed coverage of the unfolding fiasco in Juneau. Check it out if you get a chance.

Dermot Cole6 Comments