As your representative,
Voice your opinions!
Write to the Editor
Contact other officials
Senator Lisa Murkowski,
Senator Dan Sullivan,
Congressman Don Young,
If you do not wish to receive future emails from Rep. Drummond, click here.
The Final Countdown...( I hope)
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Ninety days have passed, and the legislature is now in overtime. While there has been lots of work on a number of policy bills there is yet to be a significant proposal put forward for how to resolve our budget crisis — and restructure our state's spending and revenue balance.
Where we are now.
Sunday, the 90th day, we burned the midnight oil until about three in the morning. It was a bit anticlimactic. All of us knew we were not done, or going to be done, with our legislative work. Some veteran staff and legislators tell me that in years past the 90th day was chaotic. Back then there was a real drive to get done on time. Lately for whatever reason it seems like it's treated like a soft deadline. I hope that we can work on getting that sense of urgency back in future legislatures.
Despite some petty squabbles between the House and the Senate we were able to move almost all of the non-revenue bills that were still in play out of the legislature. This will free up time in the coming days to address the major criminal justice reform bill SB 91, as well as the plan to solve our fiscal crisis.
Monday and Tuesday the House Finance committee took up two of the meatier bills of the session, the Omnibus Crime bill, and the Governor’s proposal to restructure the Permanent Fund. They held both bills, which means that it isn't likely that we will see either on the floor in the next few days.
Some highlights of the last couple of weeks.
Medicaid reform (SB 74), by Senator Pete Kelly, has passed in both the House and Senate and is headed to the Governor’s desk. This bill was developed in close collaboration with the Governor and State Health and Human Services Commissioner Valerie Davidson.
This bill can save the state $365 million in its first six years. Like everything else in life it isn't perfect, but it will improve health outcomes in rural areas and across the state, help reduce fraud in our Medicaid system by institutions and individuals and prevent addiction to opiates like OxyContin and Percocet.
The Uniform Code of Military Justice (HB 126) rewrite passed Saturday after midnight. Sexual assaults and problems at the top levels of the Alaska National Guard prompted Governor Bill Walker to address the issue with legislation. The bill would put more transparency in the judicial process and ensure that we have a strong National Guard presence in Alaska that lives up to the high standards we expect.
The budget conference committee slashed the University of Alaska budget with a $50 million cut. UA President Jim Johnsen announced up to 500 jobs could be lost. This loss will be passed on to the students as well with fewer academic programs, larger class sizes and the largest tuition increase in the university’s 100-year history. It makes me worry about how to attract and retain the smart leaders we will need to keep Alaska moving forward.
SB 89 was a bill that was designed to keep expert groups like Planned Parenthood from teaching sex education in schools. The bill failed in the House. We thought it was dead, but it came back from the grave and major components of it were added to HB 156in the Senate Finance Committee.
The anti sex education pieces were “Christmas tree’d” like ornaments to the standardized testing skeleton of the original bill.
The bill was originally about standardized testing and had some reasonable provisions, but with the added pieces restricting sex education I could find no way to support it. The Senate sent it back to the House for concurrence, I voted against it on the floor, it failed and right now its future is uncertain.
What is hanging over our heads as we debate all of this is that the state is facing a $4.1 billion deficit and the legislature still has no plan in place to agree on a budget. While the Legislature has spent many hours in committee considering legislation that could save the state money and bring in new revenue there has been no concrete plan put forward by the majority.
A major piece of the puzzle on revenue is reforming our current (and many could argue, disastrous oil tax scheme.) To put it simply we pay too much in oil tax credits in relation to what we stand to gain in revenue. In fact my colleague Les Gara from Anchorage pointed out that under the plan the House Finance Committee put forward, Alaska would receive more money from fish and game license fees than we would from oil taxes. I'm sorry, but that is insane.
There is no consensus on oil and gas tax credit reform in the House. Last week the Oil tax bill was brought to the floor, and when it became clear that Democrats, moderate Republicans and independents would not support the bill, it was pulled back to the rules committee. This usually means the House leadership knows the bill won't pass.
During times of fiscal restraint, it doesn’t make sense to shell-out $825 million in cash payments to the oil industry next year when we only bring in $68 million in production taxes. The generous credits Alaska pays out to Cook Inlet companies have been called a “subsidy” by our own legislative consultants. We should have a fair and stable tax credit system that rewards getting new oil online without placing nearly all the risk and the cost on the State of Alaska.
I know there is no way we can support asking Alaskans to help pay for government through a sales tax, income tax or Permanent Fundrestructuring, simply to give subsidies to the most profitable industry in the world.
As the extended session moves forward, I’ll continue to be in touch about the issues important to you. Please feel free to contact me any time for updates or questions.