Legislative focus glued to Dunleavy’s budget proposal

Greetings from Juneau. We are nearly two months into this year’s legislative session, and though committees are debating bills and holding confirmations for gubernatorial appointees, most lawmakers’ attention is focused on the governor’s budget proposal, and what it means to Alaska. As you may know, the governor’s budget calls for cuts of about $1.6 billion next year, affecting virtually all state departments and agencies. The budget includes $1.9 billion to pay eligible Alaskans Permanent Fund Dividends (PFDs) of about $3,000 this fall.

Hundreds of constituents have contacted me by mail, e-mail and telephone since the governor announced his spending plan. The vast majority of those whom I have heard from are greatly concerned about the loss of funding to K-12 education and University of Alaska; the potential for the Alaska Marine Highway System to cease operations at the end of September; cuts to the Medicaid program; and much more. Municipal leaders throughout Senate District P are alarmed about the governor’s proposal to eliminate shared revenue from oil production taxes and fisheries taxes. Many constituents are questioning what impacts cuts in state funding will have on their local taxes, which may have to be raised to cover costs that are now assumed by the state.

These are legitimate questions and concerns, and they are shared by many lawmakers, who are also expressing them to the administration. I have had the opportunity to attend Senate Finance Committee meetings and can assure you the budget proposal is being thoroughly vetted, and nothing will be rubber-stamped by the legislature.

What happens next?

The budget will continue to undergo debate during the coming weeks. Typically, the House of Representatives will pass its version of the budget bill (House Bill 39) first. HB 39 will become the working document for both bodies upon its transmittal to the Senate. Later, the Senate will pass its version of HB 39, and then negotiations on a compromise budget will begin between the two legislative bodies. Eventually, a compromise plan will be passed, and then sent to the governor for consideration. This year, the legislature’s work will probably conclude by mid-May.

Please keep in mind that we are still early in this process. We will likely see some budget reductions and some reduction in the PFD from the governor’s proposal. In the end, I believe we will come up with something most people can support.

Your comments on the budget

Thank you to all who have gotten in touch with me and my office about the budget. Your input is most appreciated.

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If you have the time, I encourage you to share your thoughts during the Finance Committees’ public testimony periods on the budget. Please contact the Legislative Information Office (LIO) near you for more information on the Senate and House Finance Committees’ schedules. You can also get more information online at: akleg.gov/index.php.

LIO contact information

PFD – budget survey

On a budget related note, I recently conducted a one question, online survey with those on my email list asking: Do you support a Permanent Fund Dividend at an amount lower than $3,000 this year if the reduced funding is used to support other state services?

Responses were limited to a simple yes or no, but we received over 785 responses with some 82 percent of the respondents answering “yes” to the question. The survey is by no means scientific, but the results are in line with what I am hearing from constituents about the budget and the dividend amount.

Please drop me a note at [email protected] if you would like to be added to the District P email list for future surveys and newsletters. We will not share your address with other legislators or outside organizations.

Personal legislation update

Senate Bill 22 passed out of the Senate Resources Committee on Feb. 11. The bill has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee for further consideration. Passage of the bill will allow large-scale enhancement projects for shellfish. Currently, all such projects are permitted under a research permit and are of limited size and scope.

Senate Bill 53 passed out of the Senate Education Committee, which I chair, Feb. 27. The bill asks the University of Alaska Board of Regents to present a biannual report to the legislature on the status of the national, regional, and programmatic accreditation status of the university. Senate Bill 53 also asks the Regents’ report to detail the efforts the university has made to achieve and maintain accreditation.

SB 53 is also awaiting a hearing by the Senate Finance Committee.

For more information on these bills and any of my personal legislation, please contact my office.

Tracking the Alaska Legislature

You can follow the work of the Senate Majority on the internet at alaskasenate.org/2020. The site provides a great deal of information on our efforts and our membership.

Alaska’s public television system produces Gavel Alaska, which broadcasts live and recorded coverage of floor sessions and committee hearings. The programming is also on online at 360north.org.

The legislature provides live coverage of meetings from the Capitol’s committee rooms through alaskalegislature.tv.

You can also access information on any bills and resolutions introduced during the 31st Alaska Legislature through the Bill Action and Status Inquiry System (BASIS) online at akleg.gov/basis/Home/BillsandLaws.

Apply for your PFD

The 2019 Permanent Fund Dividend application period ends Sunday, March 31. A quick and easy way to apply is via the PFD Division’s website at pfd.alaska.gov.

If you do apply by mail, please send your application by certified mail and request a return receipt for your records.

Consider Pick.Click.Give.

There are many local nonprofit organizations taking part in the Pick.Click.Give. program this year. Pick.Click.Give. affords you the ability to donate all, or part of your PFD in $25 increments to the nonprofit organization of your choice.

Pick.Click.Give is run by the Alaska Community Foundation in partnership with the Rasmuson Foundation, the Foraker Group, United Way of Anchorage and the PFD Division.

You can get more information on the program through the PFD Division’s website.

Kodiak open house

Thanks to those who joined Rep. Louise Stutes and me for our open house in Kodiak on Friday, March 1. Thanks, too, to Heather Fincher of the Kodiak LIO, and Pam Murray from Rep. Stutes’ office for their assistance with the event.

I hope to get to other District P communities later this month for constituent meetings. If you are heading to Juneau while the legislature is in session, please call my office at 486-4925 or toll free at 800-821-4925 so we can find a time to meet.

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