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|Volume 8: Issue 11
||May 23rd, 2016
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly -- The 29th Legislature
It’s been a while since we did a newsletter. The end of session dragged on a lot, and my office got caught up in it. Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly of how the second regular session of the 29th Alaska Legislature ended.
Let’s Start on a Good Note: the Ugly
With the adjournment Wednesday night, we got a lot of ugly out of the way. Several bills that wasted precious time the past two years died, and I hope we never see them again. The one to change our time zones would’ve disconnected our commerce from the rest of America. The one to let college students carry handguns and other weapons in class – and in the dorms – is a goner, too. The University of Alaska Board of Regents does a pretty good job running the UA campuses, and they didn’t need the legislature’s “help.”
The Legislature failed to produce a budget so far. Our oil revenues dried up badly, and I held my nose as a lot of good programs were slashed or eliminated. Some I couldn’t stand for, like the draconian cuts to the ferry system, the attempt to eliminate public broadcasting, and cutting little cash payments to very poor seniors, so I worked with my colleagues to try and get some money back in. Those things are still in play as we head to a special session that includes the budget, but they’re not looking good right now. Also in play: an effort to slack off on even deeper cuts by making the Governor to find another $100 million to slash. Whether you love budget cuts or hate them, the constitution says that’s the legislature’s job.
We passed an Omnibus Criminal Justice Reform bill (SB 91). A huge number of people worked on it, and it was truly nonpartisan. There are too many people to thank, but Sen. John Coghill and his staff, as well as Sen. Johnny Ellis and his staff, were instrumental in moving this successfully to the governor’s desk.
We also passed a Medicaid reform bill that should result in healthier Alaskans while saving the state hundreds of millions of dollars over the next few years. Commissioner Valerie Davidson and her team at the Department of Health & Social Services deserve a huge amount of credit for that, along with Sen. MacKinnon and her staff.
And on a smaller note, my bill to include burning somebody else’s car on private property in the definition of arson got rolled into the crime bill. It’s not a big thing, but it’ll let people see whether they’re dealing with a firebug.
Governor Walker called a special session in Juneau starting Monday, May 23. We get a second chance to tackle the budget, the fiscal situation, and a few other matters. When the Governor calls a special session, he gets to say what we consider. He listed 10 matters. I’d love to hear what you think about them!
What’s Left? Budget and Fiscal Plan
The legislature is hung up mostly on the big money questions. We’re reducing spending like crazy for the second year now, and it’s time to look at the revenue side.
I have faith in my colleagues that we’ll pass operating and capital budgets during special session that provide for essential state services mandated by the Constitution. We’d also be foolish not to leverage our state dollars to bring in federal funds that improve transportation, provide medical services, and enhance education. If not, there’s talk of government shutdown, which ticks me off. There’s no need for it, but the state now has to waste time and resources getting prepared. Alaska’s credit rating and reputation are also at risk, so we need to get this done.
But what about income? Thanks to low prices, we’re making next to nothing on our oil. Part of that is paying out credits at an unsustainable level. I believe we have to fix that (which is the other thing that has the legislature hung up.) Once we do, I support looking hard at how the Permanent Fund is structured so that we protect a dividend into the future and use a sustainable amount of the earnings for government services.
I remember the days when Alaskans paid an income tax, a school tax and taxes to keep our communities going. Nobody loves them, but some sort of broad based tax means government services have to serve the people and our economy as a whole, not just the one or two industries that pay the bills. Under the Governor’s continued leadership I am confident Alaskans can find a solution.
This special session offers the legislature a new start on the financial picture. Hopefully our beautiful May weather here in the capital city will help us all get to an orderly adjournment, so legislators can get back to their home districts.
Arbor Day Ceremony
The Governor and I planted a tree at the City Museum to mark 50 years of Arbor Day being celebrated in Alaska. It’s the same site where my father planted Alaska’s first Arbor Day tree five decades back. Kodiak Sen. Gary Stevens joined in this historic moment with many others who love and appreciate trees – it was kids from Kodiak who got Arbor Day started in Alaska 50 years ago!
Let’s Study the Ferry System Some More!
Southeast Conference will lead a multi-party effort to manage the development of a 25 year operational and business plan for the AMHS. That effort kicked off this week when the Governor signed a memorandum of understanding with the President of Southeast Conference. McDowell Group prepared an excellent study showing the economic impacts of the AMHS earlier this year, which confirms the benefits of the system not only to coastal Alaska but most of the state.
SLAM - We Knocked it Out of the Park!
The State Library, Archives, and Museum is looking great and getting a last coat of polish in preparation for the June 6th Grand Opening! Please make it a point to check the State’s newest landmark. Unlike the glacier, this one won’t recede with global warming. I got a sneak peek along with my fellow project champion Sen. Johnny Ellis. Come by see Alaska’s history up close, and get ready to spend some rainy days in the Richard Foster Reading Room.
|Kudos from Juneau
Thanks to these community members for
helping make Southeast a great place to live!
He ought to win it all – Mitch Falk bought Juneau’s best known pizza restaurants a few years back, and he expanded something amazing. The company pays for its employees’ college credits at the University of Alaska Southeast. Now Mitch is a semifinalist for an award from the ACT College and Career Readiness Campaign. Talk about expanding opportunity in our region!
Coming back to give back – I got to present a legislative citation to the JDHS Crimson Bears boys basketball team for their state championship win. And who upstaged me at the ceremony? Carlos Boozer flew back to town and brought a lot of star power to the main address at the banquet. I know it’s hard to believe, but he’s got more stature than me in more ways than one!
In advance – The preparations for Celebration, which starts June 8, are well underway. It’s always a huge event, and an amazing part of Tribal life in Southeast Alaska. Kudos to the many, many workers and volunteers who will make it happen!
On time and budget – I mentioned the SLAM grand opening earlier in this newsletter. But I just have to applaud the teams at PCL Construction, Department of Education & Early Development, Department of Transportation & Public Facilities, and all the subcontractors who brought in this huge building on time and on (or, rumor has it, maybe under) budget. They dealt with a lot of curveballs, bought Alaskan first, and did our state proud.
Thanks for reading Legislative Corner. I hope you'll always feel welcome to contact my office, just call, write, or use one of the links in this newsletter.
Alaska State Senator
Web Site: http://alaskasenatedems.com/egan/
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