State Sen. Gary Stevens in Cordova on Friday, April 12, 2019. File photo by Emily Mesner for The Cordova Times

By Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak

Hello from Juneau, 

The legislative session has ended after a compromise between Senate and House members on the operating and capital budgets. The balanced budget is based on the spring revenue forecast of $78 per barrel of oil in FY25. Our budget includes funding for vital state services such as public safety, education, and health care; capital projects including schools, airports and AMHS ferries and docks; and provides for a combined $1650 PFD + Energy Relief Check this fall (the $295 Energy Relief Check portion should not be taxable). 

The Senate and House compromise provides a reasonable and responsible budget that does not draw from savings. Similar to this year, if oil revenue exceeds projections in the upcoming Fiscal Year (FY) 2025, there is language in the budget to provide for another Energy Relief Check with our PFDs in 2025. The budget also included inflation proofing funds for the Permanent Fund principal to preserve its purchasing power and growth to benefit future generations. 

The budget is now headed to the governor where he can reduce or veto any line items. You can review the operating and capital budgets here: legfin.akleg.gov.    

FY 2025 Operating Budget 

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Our balanced operating budget provides for public safety, health, food security, school bond debt reimbursement, the University and AVTEC, Senior Benefits, AK Performance Scholarships, Fish & Game, among many other important and vital services for our state. 

Here are some items in the budget that District C constituents have contacted my office about: 

  • $11.8 million for the Department of Education Maintenance of Equity issue; 
  • $5.2 million for K-3 AK Reads Act program; 
  • $175 million one-time funding for education — equivalent to a $680 BSA increase; 
  • $7.5 million for childcare grants to help with operating costs and employee salaries; 
  • $10 million for Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute and an additional $3 million for ASMI & ATIA (Alaska Travel Industry Association) to jointly market AK seafood and Alaska as a tourism destination; 
  • $5.2 million for Head Start; 
  • $3 million for Food Banks and Pantries; 
  • $20 million for AMHS in case federal grants are lower than what the governor budgeted;  
  • $3.7 million for Alaska Council on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault;  
  • $10 million for the Community Assistance Program to ensure a $30 million payment in FY25 to communities; 
  • $1.2 million for Public Radio targeted for rural stations which are important for emergency broadcasting; 
  • $5 million for Alaska Travel Industry Association (ATIA); 
  • $1.5 million for Adult Day Care Services for grants to senior centers and $1.5 million for Senior and Disabilities Services, community-based grants, meals on wheels, and senior transportation services; 
  • As well as $5 million General Fund and $5 million federal increase for Medicaid Rate Rebasing for Developmental Disability and Personal Care Services with the intent that employers would use this rate increase to provide a 3% increase to employee wages.  

FY 2025 Capital Budget 

The Senate and House have passed the FY25 Capital and FY24 Supplemental Budget for a combined total of $550 million Unrestricted General Funds (UGF). Much of these funds are used as matching for over $3 billion in federal funding for our state. This capital budget is a balanced approach of prioritizing essential projects and critical infrastructure needs across the state while remaining within our fiscal means.  

Funding was included for statewide programs that benefit our district and state including Village safe water, housing and weatherization, senior housing, deferred and major maintenance for the top 26 school projects and top eight university projects, school construction, Code Blue match funds for our rural emergency medical programs, food security projects and grants, and winter trail grooming grants.  

Over $75 million was included for infrastructure projects across the state. Here are projects important for District C:  

  • Seldovia’s raw water transmission line replacement, $250,000; 
  • Kodiak-St. Herman’s Harbor infrastructure replacement, $1 million; 
  • Homer’s harbor expansion general investigation project, $288,523; 
  • Quzinkie’s Phase 2 alternative energy project, $50,000; 
  • Ninilchik Senior Citizens kitchen remodel and expansion, $136,000; 
  • Cordova’s rebuild of Eyak Skaters Cabin, $212,000; 
  • Kasilof flashing light at intersection, $1 million; 
  • Seward Bear Creek Service Area flood mitigation, $655,000;  
  • Snowmads Caribou Lake Trail access mats for wetlands, $76,000; 
  • UAA Kodiak campus maintenance, $955,000;  
  • Homer’s Kachemak Bay drive milepost 0-3.5 reconstruction, $300,000 — Note this funding is part of a larger $6.65 million project that will reconstruct the subsurface of the road. An additional $3.3 million under the Pavement Preservation program will resurface the road;   
  • Seward’s Alaska Sealife Center roof replacement, $700,000; 
  • Seldovia material for safe roads project, $88,000;  
  • Cordova’s Second Street reconstruction, $363,880;  
  • Kodiak Airport Drainage and Ramp Repave Stage 2, $31.8 million;   
  • Homer Society of Natural History – Pratt Museum roof system replacement, $250,000; 
  • Seward Highway Milepost 14 railroad crossing reconstruction, $18.3 million; 
  • Kodiak’s Chiniak Highway Milepost 15-31 rehabilitation, $1.5 million;  
  • Homer All-Ages & Abilities Pedestrian Pathway (HAPP) project, $208,800; 
  • Seward – Bear Creek Fire Station asphalt surfacing, $450,000;  
  • Kodiak’s Otmeloi Way reconstruction, $6 million;  
  • M/V Tustumena replacement vessell $23 million (toll credits) and $92 million (federal);  
  • Kenai Peninsula Food Bank – refrigeration and freezer upgrade, $10,000;  
  • Kalifornsky Beach Road drainage improvements, $2.7 million;   
  • Homer Electric Association St. Augustine geothermal exploration, $700,000;  
  • Kenai Peninsula Borough – improve substandard roads, $700,000;  
  • Harbor Facility Grant Fund, $7 million;  
  • AMHS: $22 million to support vessel overhauls, annual certification and shoreside facilities rehabilitation;  
  • Food security: $7.5 million for SeaShare Seafood to purchase oversupply of seafood for food banks as well as additional funds for Food Safety & Sanitation Programs and micro grants; 
  • And Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) — $15 million to help fund a new nursing facility.   

Energy  

The Legislature passed several bills on the last day to address the energy needs facing our state. HB 50 will allow the state to lease depleted gas wells to store carbon dioxide. The bill will also allow the state to regulate natural gas storage to prevent price gouging and provide loans to producers based on their gas reserves.   

HB 307 intends to provide low-cost power across the Railbelt grid and integrate more renewable energy into the system. Renewable energy producers would be exempt from municipal property sales taxes on new projects. The bill will also phase out “wheeling rates,” which are charged by utilities to transmit power across their section of the grid. While the bill passed, I and other Kenai Peninsula legislators voted against the bill based on the recommendation of Homer Electric Association and their concerns that constituents on the peninsula would not benefit from lower utility bills in the short term.  

HB 273 creates a “green bank” at the AK Housing Finance Corporation, which will apply for federal funding to offer as loans for renewable energy projects.  

Education 

The Senate included an amendment into another bill, HB 202, to continue our correspondence education programs “as is” for one more year. This bill passed on the last day of session and now awaits transmittal to the governor for his signature. This temporary fix will allow for the Supreme Court to provide their decision on the Superior Court case that ruled two correspondence program statutes violated the state constitutional prohibition on spending public funds at private or religious schools. If the Supreme Court upholds the lower court’s decision, I will work with legislators to ensure our correspondence students and families can continue their education programs with minimal disruptions.  

Legislation that passed both the Senate & House 

SCR 10: Creates the Joint Legislative Seafood Industry Task Force which will address elements of the Alaska seafood industry crisis that may be addressed through governmental policy and/or through action in the private sector. The eight-member task force will be made up of myself as chair and three other senators appointed by my office, and four representatives appointed by the speaker of the House. I anticipate the other members being selected by later this summer and meetings to begin toward early fall after our busy summer fishing season is wrapped up. I look forward to working with all members of our seafood industry to identify and address concerns to help this vital industry. 

SJR 14: The Support State Seafood Industry Resolution 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 has now been shared with the U.S. President and Vice President, members of the U.S. Congress and Senate, and various federal agencies including NOAA, the Secretaries of Agriculture and Commerce, Marine Fisheries Commission, and our Alaska Federal delegation.  

HB 19: Registration of Boats exempts active commercial fishing vessels from duplicative registration requirements created by the passage of the Derelict Vessel Act in 2018. The bill also repeals the Derelict Vessel Prevention Program Fund and removes the registration fee paid to the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. HB 19 now awaits the governor’s signature, or he can veto, or let it become law without his vote. 

SB 170: Senior Benefits extends the senior benefit program for 10 more years to 2034. The senior benefit program provides support to low-income seniors across the state to help with expenses like food, heating, transportation, and medication. This bill was rolled into SB 147, which passed both bodies and now awaits transmittal to the governor for his signature.   

Legislation to take up next year 

SB 29 Civics Education and SB 89 E-Cigarettes: During the last days of session other bills will roll into both my civics bill and e-cigarette bill, which caused serious concern for unintended consequences. It was my decision to hold both bills with the plan to reintroduce them next session. We will also need to address our retirement system to attract teachers, police, firemen and other state employees. I’m sure this will be a priority for the senate majority next year.  

Please keep in touch! 

I appreciate hearing from you about legislation, budgets and other state issues. Should we be called in for a special session or if any other important issues come up, I’ll be sure to update you in another Capitol Report. For now, I hope you all enjoy a fun and safe summer! 

District C – Alaska State Legislature 

Contact: [email protected]    

Phone: 907-465-4925 

Toll Free: 1-800-821-4925   

 

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