Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, is seen before the start of a session of the Alaska Senate on Monday, Feb. 27, 2023. Photo by James Brooks/Alaska Beacon

By Sen. Gary Stevens 

Hello from Juneau.  

The legislative session is now at the halfway mark and the work in the Capitol continues at a busy pace.  The major items on the Senate’s agenda continue to be education funding, recruitment and retention of state employees, energy, and the Fiscal Year 2025 budget. And just a reminder: apply for your PFD by March 31. 

Education funding 

The Governor vetoed the SB 140 education bill on March 14. The Senate and House are planned a Joint Session for March 18 to consider overriding the veto. Forty votes are needed to override a policy bill such as SB 140. I strongly support our local school districts, students and families, and will be voting to override. I believe a majority of Senate members will vote to override as well; however, I am unsure of the House.   

The passage of SB 140 was a monumental step forward for Alaska’s education system and reflects our commitment to providing the best possible education for our students. This bill was a compromise between many legislators and includes the largest increase to school funding in state history as well as significantly improves internet connectivity in rural Alaska schools. Even though it is not perfect, it is a step in the right direction to increase education outcomes and maintain local control with our elected school district boards and parents.   

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Executive orders 

A Joint Session was held on March 12 to vote on the Governor’s 12 Executive Orders. Eight Executive Orders were disapproved, including #131 relating to appointments to the AMHS board, and four were approved.  

FY25 budgets 

I’ve been following the Senate Finance hearings on our state’s revenue forecasts and budget updates. The revised outlook for oil prices and production resulted in an increase of $58 million for the current FY24 budget year and an increase of $140 million for the upcoming FY25 budget year. The additional funds will hopefully help us provide for a capital budget and address energy and deferred maintenance needs.   

The increase in oil prices will also provide Alaskans with an Energy Relief Payment of approximately $200 per person on top of the PFD this year. This Energy Relief amount is tied to oil revenue and the price of oil. A provision in last year’s budget stated that half of any FY24 budget surplus would go into an Energy Relief Payment in 2025.   

I have concerns about a potential AMHS funding shortfall this year. If we receive the same amount of Federal Rural Ferry Grant funding for FY25 as we did in FY24 ($38.5 million), the state could be facing a $38 million shortfall for AMHS operations. Any Rural Ferry Grant funding awarded to the state for the Tustumena Replacement Vessel is money that is no longer available for a grant to the AMHS operating budget. I will continue to work with our finance committee to advocate for AMHS funding. 

Fisheries & seafood 

SCR 10 Joint Legislative Seafood Industry Task Force was also introduced this month and had its first hearing in Senate Finance. This resolution would create a seven member task force to address elements of the Alaska seafood industry crisis that may be addressed through governmental policy and/or through action in the private sector.  

I have also cosponsored SJR 14 Support State Seafood Industry which calls on the U.S. Congress and all federal agencies to adopt policies and engage in efforts to improve the competitiveness and resiliency of Alaska’s seafood industry. The resolution passed the Senate unanimously and is now being heard in the House.   

I was pleased to see that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) committed to purchasing 1.4 million cases of canned Alaska pink salmon ($70 million) and 300,000 cases of canned Alaska sockeye ($30 million). Additionally, the USDA is considering ASMI’s request for the USDA to purchase Alaskan pollock.   

SB 170 extending the senior benefits program 

The Senior Benefits program provides monthly cash assistance to low-income seniors to help pay for food, heating, electricity, medication, and other needs. I cosponsored this bill which makes the program permanent and no longer needing further legislative reauthorization. This bill passed the Senate unanimously and is now in the House for hearings.  

I appreciate hearing from you about legislation, budgets and other state issues. Please do not hesitate to reach out to my office if we can be of assistance to you with state agency matters.  

Phone: 907-465-4925 

Toll Free: 1-800-821-4925   

Email: [email protected] 

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