| January 26, 2016
2016 Session Gets Underway
The second session of the 29th Alaska Legislature is underway and the building is full of activity. This year, the focus is on the state’s widening budget deficit – with the deficit estimated at more than $3.5 billion, we have our work cut out for us.
Governor’s Proposed Budget
The Governor has proposed a budget under his Sustainable Alaska Plan that includes a mixture of budget reductions and revenue generators – with all of the different proposals on the table, there is certainly something in his plan for everyone to dislike. There are specific components of the Governor's plan that my office will be tracking closely:
- Approximately $100 million in budget reductions: of particular concern, are cuts to the Department of Education and the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS). Specifically, elimination of funding for early childhood education, and reductions resulting in an AMHS schedule that will not provide adequate service to many communities;
- Restructuring the Permanent Fund and removing the Permanent Fund Dividend calculation and payment away from the Permanent Fund Earnings. This plan would have the Dividend paid for from resource royalties, which are not predictable in the long-term.
- Community Revenue Sharing: this program provides financial support for municipalities in the state. I strongly support the Governor’s goal of stabilizing the revenue sharing program at $60 million in payments to municipalities;
- Broad range of tax proposals: these various proposals would generate some of the revenue needed to pay for essential state services like education, public safety and healthcare. It will be important to see how these sources of revenue fit into the overall picture of a sustainable budget for Alaska.
The fiscal issue, and our progress towards a sustainable budget, will be critically important for us to address together as a legislature. There is no way to decrease our budget to the level of revenues we are currently receiving. That would mean a complete failure of state government, a closure of our schools, elimination of healthcare for needy Alaskans, and chaos in the Last Frontier. We have the ability to avoid total chaos by working together, and many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle have expressed interest in doing just that. We have come to the Legislature from around the state, with different ideas and different constituencies, but every single one of us wants a stable future for Alaska.
Chatting with 8th graders visiting the Capitol – great start to the week!
This year, I have introduced two new bills to add to the legislation introduced last year. Below is a summary of some of the pieces of legislation I will be working on:
- House Bill 24 – Qualifications Based Selection: Changes statute to require municipalities to use a qualifications based selection process when receiving state funding for construction projections. The goal of this bill is to decrease construction cost, and reduce cost overruns on projects paid for with state funds.
- House Bill 223 – The current, statutory 90 day session is costly and inefficient. House bill 223 proposes a return to the constitutional 120-day session: the bill proposal has been discussed in the Juneau Empire, theFairbanks Daily Newsminer and AK Public Media. In nearly ten years of 90-day sessions, our legislature has spent many more days per year in special session than during the years of 120-day, or unlimited sessions.
- House bill 235 – This bill authorizes the use of raffle kiosks for non-profit fundraising: the idea is to allow for organizations to sell raffle tickets (not pull-tabs!) at electronic kiosks. This issue came from an idea conceived by constituents in their effort to raise money for their local arts council (Juneau Empire Story here). This concept also has the ability to help schools raise money to support extra curricular travel and activities.
Please consider joining me at one of the following events:
Tuesday, January 26, 12-1, Native Issues Forum at the Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall,
or Sunday, January 31, 1-3, Community Meeting at the Valley Public Library
One of the issues we have worked on in the past is addressing safety concerns with students walking to Gastineau Elementary School. We had meetings with DOT&PF and stakeholders, identified the problem, and recently we pleased to learn that DOT&PF will be addressing the issue. DOT&PF has announced a project to extend the Douglas sidewalk on the uphill side of Douglas Highway near Gastineau School – this is a vital safety project that will keep our kids safe on their way to and from school.
Please feel free to contact my office with any questions.
Sam Kito III