Senator Berta Gardner

April 28, 2014

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Serving Midtown, Spenard, and UMed

State Capitol Bldg. Rm 417
Juneau, AK 99801
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Was this Really the
'Education Session'?

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Senators Gardner and French converse on the Senate Floor.
Senators Gardner and French converse
on the Senate Floor.

Beginning a week ago Saturday I sought to provide a daily update on the last few days of session. Frustratingly, the most interesting activity was deals brokered in back rooms by House and Senate leadership or by a couple of individuals.  The rest of us waited around, asking each other what was happening. Finally, the House and Senate rolled out the "compromises" on KABATA  (the Knik Arm Bridge and Tolling Authority) and on education funding and policies.

House Bill 278 was a big part of my focus this session.  Dubbed the 'Governor's Omnibus Education bill", the final version included some good provisions such as repeal of the High School Graduation Qualifying Exam (retroactive for students who met all the qualifications to earn a high school diploma but did not pass the test), improved funding and terms for charter schools, expansion of broadband services and of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) programs to middle schools. 

However, the bill failed schools in terms of funding.  Our legislative research report said that schools needed an increase of Base Student Allocation (BSA) of $404, $125, $125 over three years to bring them back up to speed after four years of flat funding.  The legislature offered $150, $50 and $50 - but with loss of the $25 million energy grants and specific requirements which effectively reduced the BSA increase to about $260, $8 and $0.  

What does this mean for schools? Districts throughout the state will be laying off teachers, counselors, and other support staff. Programs may be cut and classrooms will be larger. Teachers will have less opportunity to have one on one time with their students. Despite the good things in the bill, we continue kicking the can down the road in terms of providing schools and students with the resources they need. The proposal failed in our moral and legal obligation to schools so I was a no vote.

House Bill 23: On Thursday I was appointed to the conference committee for KABATA to "help" hash out a deal the Senate and House both could agree on. We waited more than 24 hours before meeting with a Committee Substitute already in hand.  The gist of the bill is that the bridge planning and construction management was moved from KABATA to the Department of Transportation (why this wasn't done to begin with is a mystery to me) and KABATA itself was stripped of all its powers except for the ability to collect tolls and maintain the bridge after construction.  

I believe that the proposal is a vast improvement but I was still a no vote for two reasons:

Firstly, the audit last year identified two problems with the proposal.  The traffic counts were deemed to be vastly overestimated and the consequent toll collections unrealistic.  In my view, this suggests also that the need for the bridge at the current was also suspect.  I suggested that the Legislature wait for the data before moving forward but my suggestion was denied.

The other problem is that while our working numbers on costs are roughly a billion dollars each for Phase 1 (construction of the bridge itself) and Phase 2 (approach roads on each side plus the necessary feeder roads) the financing plan addresses only the Phase 1 and completely ignores Phase 2.  

The Legislature finally adjourned, 5 days past the voter approved 90 day session. I am thrilled to be home to Anchorage to see my grand kids and welcome yesterday's birth of a new grandson.

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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