Senator Berta Gardner

April 18, 2014

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Serving Midtown, Spenard, and UMed

State Capitol Bldg. Rm 417
Juneau, AK 99801
Call Me: 1-800-331-4930

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Moving Targets & Session Wrap Up

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Our Senate Minority Caucus, from left myself, Senator Bill Wielechowski, Senator Johnny Ellis, Senator Hollis French, and Senator Lyman Hoffman
Our Senate Minority Caucus, from left myself, Senator Bill Wielechowski, Senator Johnny Ellis, Senator Hollis French, and Senator Lyman Hoffman

        We’re only days away from what could be the end of this year’s legislative session. The legislature is directed, by the people, to end after 90 days – this year that day falls on April 20th. At this point, though, no one knows exactly how the end of session will play out.  

End of Session Effect on Initiatives

        There are currently three initiatives and one referendum on the ballot this coming August. They are:

Referendum:      Repeal the SB 21: The Oil Tax Giveaway

Initiatives:          Legalization and Taxation of Marijuana

                             Increase Minimum Wage

                             Block the Pebble Mine Project

        The vote on these items in August is set by law. But, another provision of law states that, should the legislature go past its 90-day session, only the initiatives will be sent to the general election in November. That means voters would vote on the Oil Giveaway in August and the three initiatives in the November election. To understand more about what pushes the initiatives back, read the Anchorage Daily News article here.

        Two weeks ago, the House Rules Committee introduced minimum wage legislation and, in one hearing, passed it out of the Labor and Commerce Committee to the floor.

        Why introduce legislation in Juneau that says the exact same thing we were going to vote on this summer/fall?

          Because, another law states that if the legislature introduces a substantially similar bill to an initiative, then that initiative is pulled from the ballot. Read more about that in the Anchorage Daily News here.

        I’m not happy that the minimum wage issue is being taken out of the voters’ hands, mostly because this very same issue has come up before.  In 2002, the legislature pulled a vote by the people to raise the minimum wage by doing it in the legislature – the same thing happening today. The very next year, they gutted the bill.

        There’s a history of manipulation with the election process regarding minimum wage and I think the bottom line is clear:

Let the People Vote


          The Governor declared this year to be the “year of education,” and it’s true that the legislature is taking a long, hard look at the way we fund education.

          I anticipate an increase in the Base Student Allocation, or the operating funds for classrooms, to happen during this legislature. My own Senate Bill 147 proposed to increase the BSA by $404 an amount which the independent legislative research agency said was what schools needed to be made whole from four years of flat-funding. 

          I know $404 won’t be the number the legislature goes with, but I have no doubt that the citizen outcry has pushed some of my reluctant colleagues to a higher level of funding than they would otherwise support.  Sadly, it looks like education funding will be one of the last things resolved – once again.   

          There are other provisions included in the Governor’s education bill. He proposes increases to boarding school stipends, changes in the way charter schools are funded, and proposes to repeal the High School Qualifying Graduation Exam. Many of these are non-controversial - it’s the BSA level that people are really paying attention to because that is the money that will keep class sizes down and prevent deep teacher cuts across the state.


          The Senate passed a $9.3 billion operating budget for FY15, with $5.20 billion of that coming from general funds and $3.3 billion from other funds, including federal. The House and Senate have both appointed conference committees to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions, but I don’t expect too much change in that number.

        The capital budget passed by the Senate was $2.2 billion dollars. I’m happy to report that our district got a few projects despite shrinking capital budgets.  We were able to secure money for districtwide pavement rehabilitation, some work on creek flooding, playgrounds and school grants.

        There’s no doubt that the budget work here in the legislature will become increasingly difficult. Despite these lean budgets, the state is still facing a $2 billion annual deficit. Without delving too deep here, I’ll simply say that a fair tax structure with regards to oil production is a step in the right direction in fixing our current budget crisis.


        Another major piece of legislation working its way through the Legislature is the Governor’s gasline bill, SB 138. While there is great interest in this deal, it is still very much a work in progress.  When the final version passes, I will do a more detailed newsletter about it.

        In the meantime, I want to start a new pattern of a briefing of legislation passed each day in the final few days of session. For the next three days, I’ll send out an update on what we’ve voted in in the Senate.

        A variety of bills are being held and heard, and even more are being passed. Bill are being stuffed into other bills as the time crunch ratchets up the pressure to get things done. I won’t get into the weeds by talking about what’s held and heard. Instead, I’ll brief you on what actually happened. Things are moving quick and we think this is the best way to keep you updated!

          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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