Senator Berta Gardner

April 6, 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

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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 Demonstration of Values

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Senator Gardner chats with Senators Micciche and Huggins during a break in the operating budget
Senator Gardner chats with Senators Micciche and Huggins during a break in the operating budget

         The past few days have been incredibly trying as we absorb the catastrophic cuts in the budget made by the majority in the last hours of deliberation. The Senate spent nearly 7 hours in session on Friday debating the budget.

         Our caucus offered many amendments, with a total of $746 million in cuts, with all but one denied by the majority. This is the same majority, who just hours before, cut $47 million from classrooms - on top of the $50 million cut proposed by the Governor at the beginning of session. Education was one of many programs to see cuts, but it is by far, simply put, the most shameful line item in the budget this year.            

         At close of last year’s 28th legislature, oil was hovering around $100/barrel. Since then oil has fallen to below $50, with a corresponding cataclysmic drop in revenue to the state and things look bleak for the foreseeable future. Multi-year, multi-billion dollar deficits loom.  However, woe to those who think cutting $3.5 billion is a solution to our problems. Such an approach would be short-sighted and destructive.

            As your state senator, I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching lately, about what my constituents really want me to do. I believe midtown Anchorage, Spenard, and the U-Med districts understand the dire fiscal straits we face and support me when I stand down from advocating for programs I have historically supported.

            That said, I have heard great disappointment from the district regarding the huge cuts to education, the marine highway system, the offices of public advocacy and public defenders, negotiated pay contracts and public broadcasting.

            These cuts all come at a time when we know we will be paying $700 million in credits to the oil industry this year. We hear that everyone must partake in the pain, that this problem is truly Alaska-sized, and only an Alaska-sized solution can meet the challenge.

            Why then should Alaska toss money to the industry while dramatic underfunding of education will be felt by children across the state? I am baffled by the priorities…

            I’ll chat about some of the amendments we offered below, but you can find a full list here: http://alaskasenatedems.com/docs/Operating-Budget-Amendments-Summary.pdf

Education Amendments:

            Our top priority in the Senate Democratic Caucus is education. We are not here to compromise on the future of our children and we think the absolute last place legislators should look to balancing the budget is the classroom. I offered amendment #1, a straightforward deletion of Senate Finance’s $47.5 million reduction in classroom funding.

            We’ve been talking about how underfunded schools have been for years, and here we are, in one session, cutting nearly $100 million from classroom services on top of a 27% cut to the Department of Education agency operations. We’ve cut so deeply into education, we don’t even know the full impact of what we’ve done.

            I am a pragmatist, and I know we have to reduce the size of state government, but I fight against doing so on the backs of students who will only be 4, or 5 years old once. We can cut funding for road repairs, and come back later and fix the road when times are better. We can’t give a child their years back. Here’s my speech on the amendment: http://alaskasenatedems.com/?p=1459

Honoring the Contract:

            This budget also slashed $56 million in contractually pre-agreed upon state employee salary increases.  We offered an amendment to honor the contracts, because we believe it is important to honor our word. Republicans voted down the amendment 15-5, while simultaneously declining a proposed 3% pay cut for AHFC officers who earn over $225k per year.

Cuts:

            We in the Senate are painfully aware of the massive fiscal crisis facing the state. In fact, I don’t think there is a single legislator who doesn’t see this issue as the single most important part of our work right now.

            That said, I believe Senate Democrats and the majority differ on a very important point: how to go about fixing the deficit. At $3.5 billion, just this year, we are taking about 31% of our savings out of the bank to cover the shortfall in spending vs revenue. We don’t believe in cutting our way to prosperity, but we do believe in reducing the size of state government to more adequately reflect the current revenue situation.

            That’s why we made sure our amendments focused more on cutting than on adding. We offered $746 million in decrements to about $118 million in increments. You can see a breakdown of increments and decrements here: http://alaskasenatedems.com/docs/Operating-Budget-Amendments-Totals.pdf

            We offered reductions across the board in cutting excessive salaries, reducing oil tax credits, cutting mind-bogglingly wasteful projects like the Mt. McKinley Meat and Sausage Packing Plant, and expanding Medicaid to bring huge savings to the state. All of these amendments were denied, mostly along caucus lines.

Adds:

            We chose our budget increments carefully. We were guided by the principles of protecting children, working Alaskans, and maintaining critical infrastructure needed for health and safety.

Closing Comments:

            Overall, I’m very disappointed in this budget. I think the worst cuts were made at the end, under cover of secrecy, and I think the priorities are completely misplaced. I believe in cutting the size of government and in reducing spending to more closely align with the fiscal means in this state, but I don’t think the majority went about that in a much prioritized way.

            Instead, it seems like they did as politicians: cut the very things that people want while protecting special interests, all in the name of severe budget cuts. I was a strong no vote on the budget and I think the priorities lie all in the wrong place and, contrary to what was said on the floor, the budget most certainly is our values made real.

            You can find my closing floor speech, and watch the final vote, here: http://alaskasenatedems.com/?p=1472

           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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