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Lawmakers Support Energy, STEM Initiatives in Upcoming Fiscal Year

April 30, 2008

Legislators in Alaska, Iowa and Oklahoma recently approved funding for several TBED-related initiatives within state operating and capital budgets for the upcoming fiscal year.

Alaska Legislators Create Renewable Energy Fund
The 2008 legislative session wrapped up earlier this month, resulting in statewide support for renewable energy following the passage of the fiscal year 2009 operating (HB 310) and capital budget (SB 221).
 
Lawmakers agreed to Gov. Sarah Palin’s proposal supporting alternative energy projects in the upcoming fiscal year and beyond with the passage of HB 152, which creates a renewable energy grant fund and recommendation program to be administered by the Alaska Energy Authority (AEA) and establishes a seven-member advisory committee.
 
The legislation requires AEA, in consultation with the advisory committee, to identify criteria to evaluate the benefit and feasibility of energy-related projects and develop a methodology for distributing funds. The capital budget agreement includes a "$50 million capitalization of the fund" for the grant program in FY09, AEA notes. AEA will solicit projects for funding and present them to the interim Legislative Budget and Audit Committee, who will make the final funding decisions. In subsequent years, AEA will submit a list of potential projects to the legislature at the beginning of the session and the legislature will have the final decision making authority.
 
Gov. Palin appointed Steve Haagenson last month to serve as Alaska’s new Energy Coordinator and executive director of the AEA, as proposed in her State of the State Address earlier this year (see the Jan. 23, 2008 issue of the Digest).
 
Iowa Budget Supports STEM, Continues Investment in Power Fund
Lawmakers approved Gov. Chet Culver’s proposal to support science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields within the state’s higher education system, allocating $4 million for the Mathematics and Science Education Collaborative Initiative.
 
Led by the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) in collaboration with the University of Iowa and Iowa State University, the goals of the initiative are to improve math and science performance of Iowa students, prepare more high quality math and science teachers for Iowa’s schools, and promote statewide collaboration and cooperation. The governor proposed $5 million for STEM support during his Condition of the State Speech earlier this year (see the Jan. 16, 2008 issue of the Digest). UNI outlined several projects underway to support the initiative including:

  • The Regents Mathematics and Science Education Institution located at UNI;
  • Star Math and Science Majors to Teaching, an initiative that addresses teacher shortage by recruiting students into math and science teaching;
  • Science and Math Teacher Real World Interns, a summer internship program in the private and public sector for math and science teachers;
  • Wider implementation of Project Lead the Way across Iowa, which targets math and science curriculum and student recruitment to math and science careers; and,
  • Community college STEM instructor preparation and updates to address the shortage of math and science instructors at community colleges.

Approved last year by the General Assembly, the Iowa Power Fund will receive its second installment of $25 million in FY09. The $100 million fund invests in private sector renewable and alternative energy industries (see the May 7, 2007 issue of the Digest).
 
Lawmakers also approved legislation making the use of the Power Fund money more flexible. SF 2422 provides a revolving loan fund and grants for technical review and assistance of proposals for applicants that cannot otherwise pay the associated fees and increases funding that can be used for administrative costs. The legislation also directs $2.5 million to the Department of Economic Development for the workforce training and economic development funds of the states’ community colleges.
 
No Funding Boost for OCAST in FY09
Gov. Brad Henry and legislative leaders announced April 16 a standstill budget agreement (HB 2276) for FY09 that provides level funding for most state agencies – a far cry from the governor’s earlier recommendation that would boost many state agencies’ operating levels, including an additional $12 million for the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST).
 
OCAST will receive $22.45 million in FY09 under the agreement – the same amount appropriated last year. Gov. Henry’s budget recommendation asked lawmakers to provide an additional $6 million to replace one-time funding for the Bioenergy Center and $5 million to replace seed capital funds diverted last year for the center. The executive budget also recommended $1 million to enhance existing OCAST programs (see the Feb. 6, 2008 issue of the Digest).
 
The governor’s proposal to provide a permanent funding source for the EDGE Endowment Fund was amended during the legislative process into a bill dealing with the Quality Jobs tax credits for the owners of an NBA basketball team to relocate to Oklahoma City. No additional money was allocated to EDGE for FY09 or the previous fiscal year.

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