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Note from Rep. Les Gara
Note from Rep. Les Gara  
Session Good, Bad & Ugly:
Schools, Children, Seniors Protected; Economy Not!
Note from Rep. Les Gara

June 29, 2017

Voice Your Opinions!

Letters to the editor make a difference. You can send a letter of up to 200 words (shorter letters are more likely to be accepted) to the Alaska Dispatch News by email (letters@alaskadispatch.com); or by fax or mail (call them at 257-4308). Send letters to the Anchorage Press via e-mail editor@anchoragepress.com or by mail to 540 E. Fifth Ave, Anchorage, 99501. Feel free to call us if you need factual information to help you write a letter.

Contact the Governor. The Governor can be reached at 269-7450; or www.alaska.gov.

Contact us. My office can be reached at: 1500 W Benson Blvd, Rm 216, Anchorage, AK 99503; by phone: 269-0106; visit my website at http://replesgara.com; or email: Rep.Les.Gara@akleg.gov

Want to Volunteer To Help A Child?

You can be a Volunteer Mentor to help a child, through a program we worked with foster care advocates to start, at Big Brothers, Big Sisters.  Just call433-4691. Have the time to do more?  Alaska has a major shortage of foster and adoptive parents, and you can help change a life by doing that.  To ask about foster parenting or adopting a child out of foster care call 1-800-478-7307.  And, of course, we are always asking people to donate tax deductible new or used (good condition only) laptops for current and recent foster youth.  You can contact us if you'd like to do that.

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Dear Neighbors:

While some good news came out of session, I’m frustrated, and know you are. As one vote, I don’t get to make all 60 people take action. I get to try.  And I get to pitch compromises that I can’t force anyone to respond to. I’m a fan of democracy. I’m not a fan of not being able, as one person, to force people out of their ideological boxes to reach needed compromise, to get good things done.  In this case, to get people to put their ideologies aside so we can protect our economy from a spiral towards a deep recession. More on that later. It is work that will have to be done in the coming months and next session. 

I and our bi-partisan Alaska House Majority Coalition, which came together to solve our annual fiscal crisis, voted to get it done this past session, and joined across party lines after the 2016 election to do just that:

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We will keep fighting to make our colleagues take tough votes. Solving this deficit is now a math problem. Hardened ideologies need to take a far back seat.

The Good: Abused and Neglected Children, Seniors, Schools,
Opportunity and Disabled Alaskans Protected

While looking for budget waste is important, kids, seniors and schools are not waste. 

By last week we were able to reverse harsh cuts by more conservative Republican leadership members to public education, pre-k, the University (a proposed $24 million cut), disability and senior services, and our Pioneer homes. The Senate version of the budget had completely eliminated state-funded pre-k, and we were able to negotiate – as well as we could – a $24 million proposed university cut down to an $8 million cut. We need a fiscal plan so we don’t have these fights every year, and so we can move Alaska forward again instead of fighting efforts to move education, and basic services backwards.  

Progress For Vulnerable, Abused, and Neglected Youth 

And as you may have read in the paper todayour office took a lead, and found support, to reverse very harmful cuts to needed help to protect abused and neglected children, who face significant life hurdles due to no fault of their own. On the latter front, our office worked hard to reduce staggering caseloads at our child protection agency – from current caseloads that are a staggering 200% to 350% higher than acceptable national standards. Without action, children, simply, live with greater trauma and less love, and get less help. Workers cannot work with parents to reunify families, or find relatives who’d make good, loving adoptive parents for a child who’s family is unable to safely take care of their child. Children too often end up bouncing between 10, 15, and 20 foster homes. 

I want what Olympians Simone Biles and Tori Bowie, who I met at a national foster care conference, got. They didn’t suffer and languish in foster care. They were removed from troubled homes, but then quickly into their grandparents’ homes, where they were adopted and loved. They were given the moral right to use their personal strength to succeed. 

A hockey team needs six players. If you save money by fielding a team for three players and no goalie, you’ll lose every time. Losing, when it comes to vulnerable children, is not OK.  We also passed House Bill 151 out of the House. If it passes the Senate it will adopt best practices, nationally recognized caseload and new worker training standards, and a number of best practices to transform our child protection system in a way that will allow more children to succeed, and allow us to save money by getting youth out of expensive foster care, and into permanent, loving homes. A sponsor statement for that bill is linked here.

Bigger Work Left:  Fixing Our Budget To Protect the Economy,
And Prevent Annual Budget Battles Like This Year’s

I’m proud that we formed a bi-partisan Alaska House Majority Coalition this year, with the goal of fixing our budget crisis, and protecting our economy.  For too many years, the state has spent down our savings to the point that a revenue plan is needed now. Less than five years ago we’d accumulated over $15 billion in our savings accounts from high oil prices, and a former oil tax law that performed well at high oil prices to share oil company windfall profits with the state. The past three years our budget savings accounts have nearly been emptied, and our coalition has tried to reverse that.

In the House we took tough votes to pass a balanced, fair, full fiscal plan on oil reform and broad-based revenue to close our budget gap, and put the state and our economy on solid footing. We offered to negotiate to change the revenue measures, alter them, but to do so in a way that didn’t put the burden on just poor and working class Alaskans. We think corporations that make large profits, and the wealthiest Alaskans, many of who want to help, should chip in. Of course, then there are those wealthy and corporate interests who want to keep everything they have, and not chip in. They hire lobbyists from their nice Houston and Alaska homes. Better, in their view, to own a $70,000 car, and lots of other stuff, than chip in to help kids and those less fortunate, I guess.

And . . . Those Corporate and Lower 48 Billionaire-Funded Groups
That Made Me Famous With Attack TV Ads and Mailers

Alaska deserves better than class warfare by those who can afford lobbyists. We need to unite, and not let those corporations and others who spend big money, to get their way, divide us.

You may have seen that wealthy and corporate interests, sometimes with Outside money, sent out attack ads against myself, the Governor, and many of the colleagues who took votes to put Alaska on a stable footing. Wait. Some of those ads “forgot” to mention who paid for them. Odd how so-called business groups would spend money to extend Alaska’s recession. Shame on the political operatives at the Alaska Chamber of Commerce, and the front groups funded with outside corporate and billionaire Koch Brothers money.

With different philosophies, the more conservative Senate proposed to partially fill the deficit, leaving what would be a roughly $600 million deficit next year, by simply cutting the Dividend to $1000 and taking no other significant revenue action.  That’s where we sit now.  Something will have to give this year or next before this current legislative term ends. 

With only $1.7 billion left in our constitutional savings account, which needs to be kept for emergencies like an even deeper drop in oil prices and oil revenue, we need a full revenue plan now. 

According to all the experts on the economy we heard from, who many legislators felt said things that didn’t fit in their ideological comfort zones, this because clear.  First, we’ve cut 40% of the budget, and are spending less on a per capita, inflation adjusted basis that in all but one of the past 40 years. We have one of the lowest budgets in recent Alaska history, and it’s no surprise we are losing teachers, guidance counsellors, university professors, university classes, jobs, and opportunity for the next generation. We need to reverse that.

Every expert, whether from highly regarded institutions like the university’s Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER), or Northern Economics, have made clear that continued deep budget cuts cost jobs.  And the remaining cuts are mostly to core services, not waste. Even the very conservative Senate could not find waste and, before reaching a compromise with the House, proposed their biggest proposed cuts - $100 million worth – to schools, pre-k, the University and foster care.

According to ISER and Northern Economics, at this point each $100 million in budget cuts causes a loss, with less money circulating in the economy and to businesses, of about 1,000 – 1,500 jobs. Some in the Senate want another $500 - $750 million in cuts – which would hit schools, seniors, kids and those with disabilities hard. In a state that lost roughly 7,000 jobs last year, and that is in recession, that means another 10,000 lost private and public sector jobs.

Tough choices demand that politicians get out of their ideological comfort zones. Fixing our revenue problem now is, well, simply a math problem. The revenue is needed. It will have to come from places we don’t love. But a fair share of it should, justly, come from those with the most privilege. Politicians who say profitable companies and the wealthiest should not chip in fairly because those people are “job creators” haven’t spent time with the people I know, who work hard, and also contribute to the economy.

My Best,

[signed] Les Gara


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