For Immediate Release: April 25th, 2014
In the “Education Session,” Education Finishes Last
Billion dollar deficits flourish, dangerous constitutional measures die
JUNEAU – After the 2013 passage of SB 21, the Oil Wealth Giveaway, the legislature returned in 2014 to an unfortunate, but predicted fiscal catastrophe. Despite promises of increased production and revenue to the State of Alaska, even the most optimistic Department of Revenue production forecasts fail to project even one new barrel of oil in the Trans-Alaska pipeline.
“It is remarkable that in just two short years Alaska went from billion dollar surpluses to billion dollar deficits. Now our worst fears are being realized in the latest production and revenue forecasts from the Governor’s team at the Department of Revenue. No increased production and red ink, to the tune of billions and billions of dollars, as far as the eye can see,” stated Minority Leader Hollis French (D-Anchorage).
In spite of massive deficits, the Republican majorities found ample time to pass special interest legislation assisting oil refineries and to pass a gasline bill that continues a failed financial relationship with Canadian pipeline builder TransCanada while bringing Alaska no closer to its long held goal of affordable energy for all Alaskans.
With the Governor’s support, Republican leadership continued to pour money into megaprojects such as the Knik Arm Bridge, the Susitna-Watana Dam, and Juneau Access, projects with unknown economic benefits and environmental hazards that could potentially cost the State of Alaska $5-10 billion to complete.
“Alaskans can’t afford the blind and reckless spending spree the Governor and the majorities promoted this session. Thankfully the Bi-Partisan Working Group saved $17 billion while getting Alaska its fair share for our oil, but at the rate of spending promoted by the Governor and Republican majorities, we will be lucky to see those savings last 3 or 4 more years,” said Senator Johnny Ellis (D-Anchorage).
After failing to address parents’, students’, and teachers’ concerns on education during the statutory 90 day session, legislative leadership dragged past the voter mandated 90 day deadline to find a viable political solution for education. Grassroots, parent-led lobbying efforts promoted a $400 increase to the Base Student Allocation (BSA) for 2015, with $125 increases in 2016 and 2017, to correct four years of flat funding from Governor Parnell and Republican House leadership. The initial $400 dollar BSA increase figure was drawn from a legislative research report indicating this to be the minimum amount needed to stem school district cuts today after multiple years of flat funding.
Following a three day impasse, a conference committee was appointed to resolve the matter. Majority caucuses ended the “Education Session” with a funding measure that fails to keep up with inflation, thus continuing to starve classrooms and teachers of resources they need to provide Alaskan students with a first-rate public education.
“Leadership really didn’t address education until the 11th hour and then produced a legislative failure. They misrepresent the facts about BSA equivalency in funding, and include public money for private and religious schools. There are a few policy improvements but overall we have failed to provide schools with the means to offer Alaskan students the best education possible,” Senator Berta Gardner.
There were some notable bright spots to the session. Opposition from Senate Democrats and moderate majority members led to the failure of dangerous measures such as: SJR 9, authorizing school vouchers for payments to private religious institutions; SJR 21, a resolution seeking to politicize judicial selections; and HB 77, legislation dubbed the “Silencing Alaskans Act,” that would have removed critical public input processes from permitting and water rights decisions. In addition, a broad coalition of members, led by Senators John Coghill and Johnny Ellis passed a sweeping corrections reform that will improve public safety, hold offenders more accountable, and reduce corrections spending.
Finally, we were all heartened by the impassioned display of activism surrounding the passage of House Bill 217 that made Alaska one of two states to officially recognize its Native languages. Advocates for the bill occupied the Capitol building the last day of session, singing and dancing their way into the night. The bill finally passed at 3 am, as cheers erupted from the Senate gallery.
“This session was another good one for big business, but a tough one for working Alaskans families,” said Senator Bill Wielechowski. “More big corporate giveaways combined with plummeting oil production and state revenue led Republican leaders to talk about raiding the Permanent Fund. This is a shame considering the Bipartisan Working Group worked so hard to save $17 billion.”
For more information contact Myer Hutchinson at (907) 465-5319.