Dear Friends and Neighbors,
I have several pieces of news to report.
Try, Try Again
A Fourth Special Session in the Offing
Alaska’s $2.7 billion annual budget deficit will shrink if legislators raise new revenues during a special session likely to begin in Juneau next month. Governor Walker and the House Majority want to close or substantially diminish our budget gap this year, so we expect an official proclamation any day now that will call the legislature into a fourth special session beginning October 23.
A school, income, or sales tax that raises about $700 million per year, combined with other measures, would close the gap and allow us to stop snatching $4 billion a year from our savings accounts. The Senate Majority has vigorously opposed new revenues, and we can’t stabilize Alaska’s budget and economy without Senate cooperation, so I hope they see the light.
In fact, the Senate will have to take the lead. The House will vote after/if the Senate passes a revenue bill.
Since oil prices nosedived, we’ve been hemorrhaging red ink. We’ve drained $15 billion from our Constitutional Budget Reserve, slashed $1.25 billion (23%) from our operating budget, sliced our capital budget to year 2000 levels, halved our PFD, and still have a whopping budget gap. Our credit rating has slumped, our housing market has softened, we have the nation’s highest unemployment rate, and we’ve waved goodbye to friends and family seeking greener pastures Outside.
The House and Senate largely agree that drawing $1.4 to 1.7 billion per year from the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve will whack much of the gap, while still allowing the Fund to grow. But we disagree on how—or whether—to close the remaining gap with new revenues. Finding consensus on that is the challenge the legislature will overcome this fall…or face again in 2018.
Reforming the Reform
Special Session May Correct Criminal Justice Overreach
If Governor Walker calls a fourth special session, he may ask us to spend some of that session stiffening criminal penalties that the legislature softened when we passed SB91 last year.
My constituents have also voiced SB91 concerns. An overflow crowd at the September 11 Rogers Park Community Council meeting chronicled increased crime in their neighborhood, and connected the dots to SB91.
That Governor Walker is even considering tasking the legislature to pass SB54 this year—rather than waiting until the 2018 regular session—underscores the need to right size penalties.
We don’t want too many Alaskans jailed, nor do we want to burgeon the Department of Corrections’ budgets, but we have to balance those concerns against the Commission’s strong advice and our citizens’ safety and peace of mind.
In Other News…
Canvassing Your Neighborhood!
To best represent you in the legislature, I should know you, visit you at home, meet your kids, and hear what you think about Alaska’s problems and promises. You can attend my town hall meeting (see below), speak to me at your community council, email me, or phone me—or I can come to you. And I do.
The past couple months, I’ve been walking door-to-door. So far, I’ve covered the College Gate neighborhood. Next on my route is the Campbell Park neighborhood. So keep an eye out for me over the next few weeks – I hope to see you in your habitat.
Town Hall Meeting
Face-to-face interaction between constituents and legislators promotes responsive government. I work for you, and I always want to hear—and respond to—your suggestions, questions, comments and criticisms. You can email or phone me anytime, AND you can discuss your concerns in person with me, Senator Berta Gardner, and Rep. Harriet Drummond Monday, October 16 in a town hall-style meeting at Steller Secondary School, from 5-7 p.m. Stellar is on Blueberry Road between Fireweed and Northern Lights, just west of C Street. Mark your calen…smart phones! See you at Steller.
Dowling Road Construction
You may want to detour away from Dowling Road between the Old Seward and Lake Otis for the next few weeks, and avoid the roundabouts this weekend, as they’ll be closed from 8 pm Friday until 5:30 am Monday. All four New Seward/Dowling on- and off-ramps will also be closed this weekend.
Crews will be repaving that stretch of Dowling through mid-October. Expect delays, lane closures, and sidewalk closures/detours, except during morning and evening rush hours. The roundabouts and on- off-ramps will be closed. Please plan to follow detour routes via Tudor Road and Dimond Boulevard/Abbott Road.
Find more project information at the Alaska Navigator page.
Did you know that Alaska has a higher number of veterans, per capita, than any state, including the highest number of combat veterans between the ages of 20-34? Just over 10% of our population consists of veterans, many of whom are combat veterans. Further, a whopping 22% of Alaska’s veterans served in Vietnam. Given our strong ties to military service, I’d like to mention a new documentary series that airs on PBS this Sunday at 7 pm: Ken Burns’ Vietnam. My sincerest thank you to all of our veterans for their immeasurable service to this state and our country.
If you have a topic or event that you would like to see in my next newsletter, feel free to get in touch with me or my staff. Please make note that my office will be based in Anchorage until January.
And as always, please call or email with any thoughts, ideas, or concerns.
I Answer to You!