Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I have several pieces of news to report. Let’s begin with the topic at the forefront of everyone’s mind these past few weeks:
Budget or Bust
Alaskans are (quite justifiably) tightening their seat belts and angrily questioning legislators at the wheel: Will there be a shut down? Where’s the budget? Where’s the fiscal plan? Will we pay an income tax? Will schools be funded?
Virtually no one wants a shutdown and I’m pretty confident we can avoid that—indeed, I think in the next 36 hours a budget will be completed. But the House/Senate standoff is about more than next year’s budget. It’s about a fiscal plan that allows for sustainable budgets every year.
What kind of state do we want to live in? Some want to "live within our means,” which means whacking budgets for troopers, schools, child protection programs, Pioneer Homes, University of Alaska, disability services, and more. Others—including me—want to retain quality of life functions atadequate levels.
Some say we should live off state savings accounts, draining the Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR) and/or using the Earnings Reserve of the Permanent Fund (ERA), which will reduce dividends. Others—including me—say we also need new revenue coming from oil, and the implementation of a broad-based tax.
THE SENATE MAJORITY’S POSITION
The Senate Majority generally wants to reduce government services and spend savings. It argues that the state has a lot of money and does not need to take money from individual Alaskans or from industry. But this hurts low income folks disproportionately, sustains and deepens the recession, and inhibits investment. And the Senate has not been able to identify cuts that don’t harm vulnerable Alaskans and incite uproar.
THE HOUSE MAJORITY’S POSITION
The House Majority generally wants to retain services (especially education), protect the dividend because it’s crucial to so many people, and support state government with a fairer share from the oil industry, and/or new, broad-based revenues... just as every other state in the nation does. We agree that the ERA should help fund government, but only as part of a balanced plan.
So what looks like needless brinkmanship is actually a titanic struggle between two visions of Alaska’s future. If the state were still flush, passing a budget this year would be as easy as it was before the oil price crash, and there’d be no talk of a shutdown. We’ve fought this same fight each year since the price crash. Each year, our savings accounts are smaller and the stakes are higher. Standard and Poor’s warned the state earlier this week that they’d downgrade our credit rating yet again if we don’t enact structural fiscal reforms now.
It’s well past time to have a real fiscal plan that reduces our reliance on the price of oil and gives us a stable revenue stream to support state services. Failing that, we’ll replay the same painful tussle over and over, driving toward the same cliff next year, the year after that, and the year after that... with fewer options each time.
The Greatest Sacrifice
A signing ceremony for House Bill 23 was held in North Pole on June 21 at Trooper Gabe Rich and Trooper Scott Johnson Memorial Park – named after two fallen officers. This bill extends health insurance benefits from officers who have died in the line of duty to their surviving spouses and children. A brief video summary on the ceremony can be found on News 13.
As a prime sponsor of this bill, I was honored to speak at the ceremony. My gratitude goes out to all those who serve and protect us every day; my heart goes out to those who have made the greatest sacrifice in service of our citizens, and to the loved ones they left behind.
Tudor Road Development
The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is moving to midtown. The current building has been costing an unsustainable sum ($700,000-$800,000 per year in maintenance costs), so the city struck a deal with developers to build a new DHHS building on a plot of city-owned land off Tudor Road. Next to this new building will be a grocery store, shops, a restaurant, a hotel, and housing (market value condo and apartment complexes), as well as a new bus barn for the Anchorage School District.
This complex is focused on green energy: solar panels and roof-top gardens were widely touted by attendees of the June 14 public meeting, and the developers are keen to make this a reality.
One major public concern was traffic congestion and bike/pedestrian accessibility and safety. The developers are working with both the city and the state to alleviate, rather than compound, current traffic issues on this stretch of Tudor Road.
The old DHHS building will be leveled and in its place a senior apartment complex will rise. This complex will house shops on the lower floor and have electric rental cars available to residents.
Work is scheduled to begin in the next year, beginning with the new DHHS building and the grocery store. Click here to view the site plans. We will be posting developments as this project progresses.
We all love our dogs. And our long summer days. With our four-legged companions spending more time outside soaking up the midnight sun, note that the Anchorage city ordinance on dog barking has recently changed. Dogs are not permitted to bark for longer than 5 consecutive minutes. This ADN article summarizes the change. Specifics of this ordinance can be found in Title 17.
Click here for some helpful information on training your enthusiastic dog to be a bit more conscientious of its neighbors.
If you have a topic or event that you would like to see in my next newsletter, feel free to get in touch with myself or my staff.
As always, please call or email with any thought, ideas, or concerns.
I Answer to You!