Senator Berta Gardner

February 27, 2015

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Serving Midtown, Spenard, and UMed

State Capitol Bldg. Rm 9
Juneau, AK 99801
 
Phone: 907-465-4930
Call Me: 1-800-331-4930

Sen.Berta.Gardner@akleg.gov
alaskasenatedems.com/gardner
facebook.com/BertaGardner

Send a letter to the Alaska Dispatch News via e-mail letters@alaskadispatch.com

Governor Bill Walker
Anchorage Office
550 W. 7th Ave, Ste 1700
Anchorage, AK 99501
(907) 269-7450
Gov.alaska.gov
 

Lt. Governor Byron Mallott
Anchorage Office
550 W. 7th Ave, Ste 1700
Anchorage, AK 99501
(907) 269-7460
LtGov.alaska.gov

A Look At What The District is Talking About

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Senator Gardner speaks on the Senate Floor as the Senate Democrat Leader
Senator Gardner speaks on the Senate Floor as the Senate Democrat Leader

Our office has been working hard to put together the results of our constituent survey which many of you filled out and returned already. Thank you for those who’ve taken the time to share your thoughts.

If you haven’t had a chance to do it yet, please call my office for a paper copy or head to either of the two following websites to fill it out online.

 

For those that live on the east side of the district http://alaskasenatedems.com/survey/HD17.php

For those that live on the west side of the district http://alaskasenatedems.com/survey/HD18.php

I’ll share my thoughts below on the topics I’m hearing the most about.

Marijuana

Aside from comfortably passing statewide, Senate District I voted for proposition 2 by about 2300 votes, a pretty significant margin. This was a clear message to me that the voters knew what they wanted: legalization of possession and use of marijuana for adults over the age of 21.

That said, many of you have made some great suggestions that we’re currently looking into at the capitol including restrictions on advertising or gearing marketing towards children, placing funds collected from marijuana into state services like education and marijuana treatment programs, and ensuring public consumption is dealt with properly. At some point, I’ll do a full e-news on the state of marijuana, but suffice to say, as of two days, the initiative has taken effect and Alaska is fine. I look forward to continuing the people’s work on this issue.

Cutting Northern Access U-Med Road

This continues to be a priority for me. With 7 Community Council resolutions of opposition and survey responses, the community has spoken clearly: no road. At a time when we’re dealing with $3.5 billion deficits, year over year, I think we should cut this project. We know the $20 million appropriated last year won’t be enough to construct a road that is sensitive to the wetlands, and meets the needs of the community around it.

I’ve been advocating strongly to cut the road down here. If we can’t do it right, we shouldn’t be doing it at all. I’ve met with the Governor, the Commissioner of Transportation and the Co Chair of Senate Finance on this issue. We’ll pass along any updates to those following the issue. Special thanks for Carolyn Ramsey for being so dedicated to this issue and helping my office understand the ins and outs.

Protecting Public Safety

Many of you pointed out the importance of insulating public safety services, like police and fire, from the extreme budget cuts. These are essential services that save lives on a daily basis. I’m serving on the Finance Subcommittee for Public Safety and will be looking closely to keep cuts to fire and police to a minimum, or at a level that doesn’t impact our safety.

Medicaid Expansion

Many in our district have lent their support to the Governor in expanding Medicaid. I’m extremely happy about this as I personally believe that Medicaid expansion is not only the right thing to do, but it’s the right decision for the Alaskan economy. House and Senate Democrats are on record supporting the Governor in expanding Medicaid. Now we wait to see what the majority leadership caucuses will do in supporting or opposing the expansion.

80’s Crash and Similarities to Today

There’ve been a few local and national stories focused on our currently very large deficit. Last year, we ran a $3.5 billion deficit and we expect to pull another $3.3 billion from savings this year to balance the budget. The financial picture is far from rosy, and now is the time for hard decisions. I anticipate that the role of government will change, and mostly shrink, in the coming years. Our state may one day look at new sources of revenue as our dependence on oil for state services proves to be unsustainable.

With all of that said, it can be easy to feel like Alaska is headed down the wrong path, spiraling towards a recession like the one we saw in the late 80’s. Thankfully, it’s largely agreed on that there are structural differences in the way our economy is run now that will shield us from the threat of massive economic impacts that come with rapidly dropping oil prices. Our savings is also substantial, helping to preserve our credit rating. I found this article helpful in describing the big differences between then and now.

Gasline

It’s often been said, and I believe it’s true, that Alaskans have dreamed of a natural gas pipeline since we first struck oil on the north slope. With this new administration, I’m hopeful that we may get closer than ever and, if done right, we may just see a pipeline within a decade.

The Governor is currently analyzing the impact of which vehicle will bring the natural gas pipeline project to fruition. The AKLNG project, approved by the legislature last year attempts to align the state with the big three producers, BP, Conoco, and Exxon with a 25% ownership role in the pipeline for the state and TransCanada. The Alaska Stand Alone Pipeline project will be re-envisioned as an option for the state to own the entirety of a pipeline. I’m eager to see the preliminary results of both projects and debate their merits.

Creatively Investing the PFD

Over the years, a number of ideas have been floated that would use the large principal of the fund to generate income, fund state services, or preserve money for the long term. I’ve asked my staff to look at these ideas, many of which were proposed before the boom of high oil prices that allowed us to save $17 billion to weather this fiscal storm.

While we may not move forward on any bill ideas yet, many of you see the unique value Alaska has in our $55 billion Permanent Fund and the many uses that may come from leveraging that balance. Anything related to changes in the Permanent Fund, of course, comes with great political risk. I won’t take action on any of these ideas until I’ve thoroughly vetted them with constituents.  My greatest concern about "getting in to the Permanent Fund" is the ethics of our generations using the entire value of our oil assets for ourselves, leaving nothing for future generations.

A few other issues that came up in the surveys were transparency in government, sticker shock on new legislative information office building in Anchorage, the Citizen’s United decision granting personhood to corporations, and support for restorative or smart justice.

Sadly, the pressures of session means I am unable to respond to each of you who expressed a particular concern.   I am sorry because I do like to respond personally.  I thank you again for taking the time to share your vision of what our community should look like and I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible this weekend when we are back home.

           I’m Berta and I’m still listening,

           If you have any questions, please feel free to contact my office

signed: Berta


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