- Associated Press - Monday, February 29, 2016

Here is a sampling of editorial opinions from Alaska newspapers:

Feb. 28, 2016

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: University not to blame for state budget woes

Last week, the University of Alaska faced a barrage of skepticism from legislators unlike any the institution has seen in years. In hearings by the House Finance Committee’s subcommittee on the university budget, chairwoman Rep. Tammie Wilson put forth a mammoth cut that would have represented a loss of nearly a fifth of all state funding. She and other members of the majority told university officials to justify the state money being spent on all university functions outside of basic classroom instruction. Their explanation must not have been satisfactory, as the subcommittee voted to send forward a university budget with $50 million in cuts from last year’s funding level, an amount that would hit the institution like a sledgehammer as it enters its 100th year. In the hearings, Rep. Liz Vazquez said the university hadn’t done enough in its budgeting to prepare itself for the oil price collapse now hampering state revenues. But if legislators want an answer for why the university wasn’t better prepared for less funding, they need look no further than the nearest mirror.

The governance of Alaska’s university has long been an arrangement causing friction in the halls of the Legislature. The Alaska Constitution established the Board of Regents as the governing body of the University of Alaska. But in practice, the Legislature holds considerable sway over the university’s direction, because it holds the purse strings for the state funding that makes up close to half the institution’s budget. What’s more, legislators have often included intent language in the university’s budget allocation in a bid to restrict or control how some funds can be used. The university has been forced to rely on state general funds far more than it should have in the decades since statehood, as legislative misadventures from 1959 onward resulted in the institution never receiving more than a fraction of the land grant that would help it be a self-sustaining organization.

Even the land grant travesty and the Legislature’s control over a substantial chunk of the university budget would be far less problematic were it not for legislators’ tendency to micromanage the university’s mission.

Certainly, oversight and direction can be beneficial. One example of this was the Legislature’s recognition in the mid-2000s that the state was in need of more nurses and engineers, when they directed the university to focus resources on producing more of each. Accordingly, the Fairbanks and Anchorage campuses expanded the pre-medical nursing program and engineering programs. The university was successful in attracting students to the programs, which - particularly in the case of engineering - highlighted the need for new and expanded facilities to provide a modern education.

In pursuit of the goal of producing more engineering graduates, the Board of Regents planned for new engineering buildings in Fairbanks and Anchorage. The state’s burgeoning oil wealth and the concentration of legislators in Anchorage made the $78 million UAA engineering building a relatively easy sell - its construction began in 2013 and was finished two years later, complete with an enclosed skybridge to the adjacent Health Sciences building.

The Fairbanks facility, however, was another matter. Legislators chose to allocate $109 million to an Anchorage sports center the Board of Regents didn’t see as needed or wanted - thanks to an existing deferred maintenance backlog of hundreds of millions of dollars, the regents were painfully aware of the ongoing operating costs a new building entailed. The Legislature opted for the sports arena anyway, fully funding it and providing piecemeal funding to the much-needed UAF engineering building. When the oil crash hit, construction of the half-finished engineering building stalled; the UAA arena was already complete. The Legislature has made no plan to provide funds to finish the engineering building, an asset that could help students immensely.

Now, with budget pressure coming from all directions, some legislators are heaping scorn on the university for not being more prudent with its funds. The truth of the matter is that the Board of Regents’ priorities have been far more prudent than those of the legislators who now, in an ironic twist, are cutting university athletics funding, threatening to shutter the costly sports center that they so eagerly voted to fund only a few years prior.

Legislators should know better than to give the university lectures on fiscal responsibility.

___

Feb. 26, 2016

Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Parvo comes to Alaska’s Interior

News that an outbreak of canine parvovirus has descended on Interior Alaska is highly concerning. It’s even worse that it’s here as dogs and mushers prepare for the Open North American Championships in Fairbanks and as local mushers get ready to head to Anchorage for the start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, where close to a hundred dog teams will be congregated.

Interior Alaska, and the greater Fairbanks region in particular, always needs to be on guard against the highly contagious canine parvovirus and other canine illnesses. Our part of the state is well known for being home to thousands of sled dogs in addition to the number of regular pet dogs that live among us.

The importance of having your dogs vaccinated against parvovirus and other canine diseases can’t be overstated, yet there is no state law or Fairbanks North Star Borough ordinance requiring it. The only required vaccination of dogs is for rabies, a vaccination that can only be administered by a licensed veterinarian or a lay vaccinator certified by the state of Alaska.

Without a state or local statute, the responsibility for fighting parvovirus falls to the individual dog owner.

The current outbreak, one described by Alaska State Veterinarian Dr. Robert Gerlach as severe and in which several dogs have died, should be a call for action by dog owners.

Veterinarians can vaccinate your dogs against a variety of illnesses, but it’s also easy and affordable as a do-it-yourself job. A single one-time annual vaccine is available to guard against parvovirus, distemper, hepatitis, adenovirus and parainfluenza and can be purchased locally.

Vaccinating your dogs - and any animals determined to be in need of protection - is responsible behavior not only toward your animal but also to those of your neighbors and beyond. The only way to prevent the spread of disease is to disrupt its flow, and the best way to do that is to vaccinate regularly.

Here are some points about canine parvovirus from The American Veterinary Medical Association:

- Some signs of parvovirus infection include lethargy, loss of appetite, abdominal pain and bloating, fever or low body temperature, vomiting, and severe and sometimes bloody diarrhea. “Persistent vomiting and diarrhea can cause rapid dehydration, and damage to the intestines and immune system can cause septic shock,” the association’s website reads.

- Most deaths from parvovirus occur within 48 to 72 hours following the onset of symptoms. A veterinarian should be contacted immediately.

- No drug exists that will kill the virus in infected dogs. The role of treatment is to support the dog’s body systems until the immune system can fight off the infection.

- Proper cleaning and disinfection of contaminated kennels and other areas where infected dogs are or have been housed is essential. The virus is not easily killed. Consult a veterinarian for guidance on cleaning and disinfecting agents.

- Puppies should receive a dose of canine parvovirus vaccine between 14 and 16 weeks of age regardless of how many doses have been given previously.

Humans can’t contract canine parvovirus but can carry it on their bodies and clothing, so washing hands and clothes after coming into contact with a dog known to have parvo is important, also.

This outbreak will pass, and we hope it does so with no further harm. In its wake, let’s hope there is a greater awareness of the need to inoculate our animals.

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