Cordova Report: Community concerns include education, AMHS

Stutes reports on her March 11 visit to Cordova for a roundtable discussion with constituents 

Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, met with area residents on March 11, 2017 at the Cordova Legislative Information Office. From left, Scot Mitchell, chief executive officer of Cordova Community Medical Center, David Otness, Stutes, Mike Smith and Jim Aguiar. Photo by Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson/The Cordova Times

By Rep. Louise Stutes

For The Cordova Times

I’d like to thank everyone who attended the open house at the Cordova Legislative Information Office last Saturday.

It was great to see so many members of the community turn out to discuss local and statewide issues. This is a critical time for our state and your input is important. The discussions covered a wide variety of topics, most of which involved concerns over the state’s budget.

Naturally, people are concerned over cuts to school funding and the repercussions on education and teacher retention. In the House’s proposed budget, the Department of Education and Early Development was one of the few state agencies that has not received a cut when compared to last year.

Currently, this budget prefunds education with $1.7 billion and restores $49 million for school bond debt reimbursement based on feedback from constituents. Pupil transportation is fully funded by restoring $6 million in proposed cuts and $1.2 million was added for Pre-K education, which is shown to have a 16:1 return in long-term savings. The budget is a collaborative process and these numbers could change, but so far education has been supported in the House.

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A lot of you, along with myself, voiced support of an income tax over a sales tax. An income tax includes out-of-state workers and is fairer to Rural Alaska. In 2015, Alaska had more than 90,000 out-of-state workers accounting for $2.7 billion in untaxed earnings.

Also discussed were concerns that unexpected additional Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS) liabilities at the Cordova Community Medical Center added a $3 million deficit to the hospital in 2016. Aside from the community’s obvious health and safety reasons for having medical facilities, access to a hospital is one of the Coast Guard’s requirements of having the UCGC Sycamore in Cordova. I am very concerned about this issue and am looking into ways to address it through legislation.

A few of you discussed the difficulty of accessing funds for mariculture loans due to the required loan qualifications. The ease of acquiring these loans is on the radar of the Fisheries Committee.

Another topic of discussion last Saturday was the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) and the need for a static schedule. On this I could not agree more. AMHS’s budget has been cut 13% over the last two years and these cuts are resulting in schedule cancellations. I know how important the ferries are to Coastal Alaska and AMHS cannot afford any further reductions without major disruptions in service.  The Department of Transportation and Public Facilities estimates that even a cut of $1 million from the FY18 proposed budget could result in significant gaps in service of up to 5-6 weeks in both Southeast Alaska and Prince William Sound. I am pleased to announce that there was a $2.1 million increase in the AMHS budget as it passed out of House Finance. Regarding our ferries, maintaining the current budget levels and forward funding are two of my top priorities as Co-Chair of the House Transportation Committee.

Please reach out to me with any suggestions or concerns you have. Whether your thoughts are on the budget, new revenue, fisheries or transportation issues, or something that is important to you and your family, I’m here for you and will always endeavor to work on your behalf.

Sincerely yours,

— Louise Stutes

State House Representative for District 32 

Proudly Serving Kodiak, Cordova, and Yakutat

[email protected]

(907) 465-3271

Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, met with locals on March 11 at the Cordova Legislative Information Office. From left, Jeff Guard, Jim Aguiar, Ralph Bullis, Scot Mitchell, chief executive officer of Cordova Community Medical Center, David Otness, Stutes, and Mike Smith.
Photo by Cinthia Gibbens-Stimson/The Cordova Times
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