Governor At Odds With the Senate Over Scholarship Money

Governor Parnell late yesterday sent what he calls an “Action Alert” to his supporters    asking people to call-in and criticize the Senate Finance Committee for cutting $5-million from a scholarship program.  His administration earlier this year requested legislation concerning the program be put on hold.

The Senate hasn’t finished its final version of the budget yet,  but it currently flat-funds the scholarship program that was one of the governor’s earliest legislative accomplishments.

The Operating Budget now spends about the same amount of money as was obligated for students last year.  Meanwhile, Senators say they have put the administration on notice that permanent funding for the program depends on the governor.

Education Subcommittee Chair Dennis Egan (D-Juneau) said the governor’s Action Alert suggests that his group disenfranchised the students who are working for the scholarship.  He said the subcommittee supports the program – but also supports scholarships for other graduates who need financial help.  He says the governor had promised not to use any of the $400-million set aside for the scholarships until legislation passed setting the rules for all scholarships – both performance and needs-based.

But this year, he walked away from the bill, and instead asked us to eat it into the heart of that money.  His promise,  and his refusal to work with the Senate are what stand between the class of 2012 and the Alaska Performance Scholarship.

Egan offered to work with the governor to help provide scholarship money for those students who are financially disadvantaged – but not for what he calls  “Willy Nilly” spending with no rules.

The House passed HB-104 last year as a performance grant;  and the Senate was in the process of writing in a section that would have provided regulations for the needs-based portion.  But on March 7th, Commissioner of Education Mike Hanley asked the Finance Committee to hold the bill – setting the stalemate in place.

The governor’s press secretary responded to a request for the governor’s reaction with an email reading, – quote – “How is advocating to establish a fund to have these scholarships in perpetuity standing between the students and their scholarships?”  She left the question unanswered.