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Special Session Update
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
After negotiating over the Memorial Day weekend, the Legislature passed a $4.6 billion operating budget. This is a reduction of $500 million from last year. We also passed one of the smallest capital budgets in state history. Nearly $3.2 billion comes from the Constitutional Budget Reserve, the state’s savings account. The session now can be laser-focused on a fiscal plan, before our savings are depleted.
The budget was passed after the Alaska Independent Democratic Coalition (AIDC), of which I am a member, and the House and Senate majority caucuses reached a hard-fought compromise. The AIDC believes strongly that the future of our state depends on education and training. The compromise restored nearly $3 million to early learning across the state through Pre-K, Best Beginnings, and Parents as Teachers. We also restored the $12.9 million of K-12 education money that was cut in conference committee on the last day of regular session, along with an additional $4.7 million increase. It also added back $35 million to the University of Alaska. The compromise also included critical budget components to help victims of domestic violence, seniors, disabled people, and foster children.
Passing this budget compromise signals Alaska has a functional state government with all revenue and reform options still on the table. This budget deal ensures that critical services like road maintenance, construction projects, and fire suppression are continued.
While it is a disappointment that the Legislature still hasn’t come to an agreement on a plan that sustains our fiscal future, this budget deal allows us to focus on the components of a comprehensive fiscal plan.
Progress on Special Session Agenda
Governor Walker’s Special Session Proclamation put 12 bills on the call for the Special Session that started last week.
On Tuesday, the Alaska Legislature passed HB 200 and HB 27, which reduce barriers for adoption and boost state efforts to find stable homes for children living in foster care. Alaska has the second highest per capita number of foster youth in the state. The bills are now heading to the Governor’s desk for signature.
HB 27, which I was proud to cosponsor, emphasizes the state’s responsibility for finding permanent placements for Alaska’s foster children and prioritizes placing them with relatives when possible. The bill would also make it a priority for children to stay in the same school through the end of the term when moving from one placement setting to another in the same municipality.
Sponsored by Governor Walker, HB 200 streamlines legal proceedings involving children in Alaska’s foster care system. The “one judge, one family” model will allow for more timely judicial decisions, helping foster children quickly return home or exit foster care through guardianship or adoption.
After consideration by the House Finance Committee last week, the House passed HB 374, an essential stop-gap measure to prevent health insurance premiums from increasing by 40% for the 23,000 Alaskans in the Alaska Comprehensive Health Insurance Association (ACHIA) program. This bill is now being heard in the Senate Finance Committee. The House Labor & Commerce Committee is also working through the details of the bill for survivor benefits for family members of fallen firefighters and troopers. Today, the House Finance Committee reported mining, fisheries, and motor fuel tax reform bills out of committee. They are now awaiting hearings on the House Floor.
A Laser Focus on Fiscal Plan Needed!
Unless we find other sources of revenue, our savings account will be depleted in a short period of time, resulting in an inability of the state to provide services such as plowing roads, public safety, or quality education. In order to continue to pay for state services, we will need stable sources of revenue.
As we move toward a comprehensive fiscal plan, we must first address the hundreds of millions of dollars a year our state spends on subsidies to oil and gas companies. We should have a fair and stable system that rewards developing new oil without placing nearly all the risk on the State of Alaska. I cannot ask Alaskans to help pay for government through an income tax or reducing PFDs simply to give subsidies to profiting oil companies.