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July 16, 2019 / This week from The Signal

Are the governor's budget vetoes for real now?
Is Alaska too hot for fish?
And why is "jökulhlaup" such a dirty word?
The sun sits low in the sky on July 13, 2019, in Unalakleet. The local electric utility there is planning to send out notices to residents that their power costs are set to go up, as it prepares to lose funds from the state’s Power Cost Equalization program. Homeowners’ bills could go up an average of $80 per month. (Photo and story by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

But first… awarding-winning journalism


Most journalists despise tooting their own horn, so I'm going to toot it for them: A bunch of public media reporters in Alaska won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists last week, including Jeremy Hsieh and Scott Burton of KTOO; Jacob Resneck of CoastAlaska; the whole team behind Alaska's Energy Desk's "Midnight Oil" podcast; and former KTOO intern Kavitha George, who's now the ace reporter at KMXT-Kodiak. Additionally, former KTOO digital media editor Tripp Crouse (my predecessor and current KNBA reporter) earned an honor from the Native American Journalists Association, in addition to SPJ. As I always tell everyone all the time, there are some great reporters here in Alaska — it's always nice to see a few of them get recognition for it. Way to go, my exceedingly talented colleagues!

The vetoes are for real now

Last week, legislators who opposed Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget vetoes couldn’t muster enough votes to override them — or even get enough legislators to meet in the same place. That means the impacts of the governor's budget cuts will begin to take effect… right now.
  • Un-iversity: With a 41% cut to state funding, the University of Alaska system now faces some tough choices. The university's president says everything from campus closures to program eliminations to thousands of layoffs are on the table. The chancellor at UAS echoed those possibilities. And while not attributable to the budget vetoes, state funding for some college scholarships and grants will disappear if no further legislative action is taken.
  • Checked out: Libraries will be feeling the effects of this budget, too — especially in rural communities. Funding that helped provide broadband internet service at libraries has been eliminated, and some library workers are concerned that a statewide collections-sharing service could be threatened.
  • Food for thought: The number of farms in Alaska has risen 30% in the last five years, even as the number of farms decreases nationally. But the governor's cuts to agricultural development funding will mean less support for Alaska farmers — worrying some local farming advocates who say Alaska's agriculture industry provides food security for the state.
  • No emergency: The governor also cut funding for Alaska's local emergency planners. While local authorities are still mandated to be ready for emergencies, funding to prepare and train for those emergencies won't be coming from state coffers.
  • On the streets: Aid for low-income and homeless Alaskans has been significantly reduced in the state's budget. For shelters in Anchorage, that could mean less capacity and fewer services for Alaskans struggling to make ends meet. Catholic Social Services projects that without state funding for their services alone, homelessness in Anchorage could increase by 48%.
  • Missing the boat: Funding for Alaska's ferry system wasn’t vetoed, but it was still subject to steep cuts. Under reduced state funding passed by the Legislature (roughly half what the ferries got last year), the state's Department of Transportation and Public Facilities has released a draft winter schedule with long gaps in service for some communities.

Animals that swim, animals that fly

Namely, fish and bats.
  • In hot water: Scientists are trying to figure out why an unusual number of salmon are dying in Alaska rivers this year, but some suspect it has to do with record-high water temperatures. Davis Hovey of KNOM-Nome and Anna Rose MacArthur of KYUK-Bethel both have reports on the recent die-offs.
  • Bat Signal: A deadly fungal disease has been afflicting bats in the Lower 48. In recent years, that disease has been spotted in Washington state and could spread northward. Ari Snider of KFSK-Petersburg tells us how researchers and volunteers are racing to prepare ahead of the disease's arrival in Alaska.

Video of the week

Meet the Beaver Patrol: a group of volunteers in Juneau who are on a mission to ensure that beavers coexist in balance with people and salmon. (Video and story by David Purdy/KTOO)

Just one more thing…

Do you know what a "jökulhlaup" is? Me neither! Well, now I do, thanks to this story from KTOO's Matt Miller.

"Jökulhlaup" is an Icelandic term that describes a release of water from a glacial dam. That word is increasingly a curse word for Juneauites living in the Mendenhall Glacier's floodplain, where the glacier's annual releases are becoming harder to manage. But thanks to increased monitoring by scientists, residents now have more time to prepare for the flood waters.

More news around Alaska

The Signal is written by KTOO digital media editor Ryan Cunningham
and edited by KTOO managing editor Jennifer Pemberton.

KTOO News is member supported.

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