January 20, 2015 (Issue 14)
Welcome to the 2015 legislative session spectacular.
We have a new legislature, a new governor, and a radically new $47.28 price for Alaska North Slope crude oil. We have a $3.5 billion budget deficit; we have a $55 billion LNG project (give or take $10 billion), one of the world's largest, subject to the whims of rapidly changing global natural gas markets; and we have a proposal on the table to expand Medicaid for 40,000 Alaskans without health insurance.
2015 is a big year.
The legislative session started today, Tuesday: earnest handshakes, oaths of office, way too many cameras. It's the legislative equivalent of introducing the starting five at an NBA game.
After the pomp and circumstance, we get to work. With what? Read on.
Yes. Fiscal apocalypse. It's that bad.
The vital stats: $5.7 billion in expenditures (the Governor’s current proposal), some $2.2 billion in projected revenues. Those two numbers are very different, in a not-good, very bad way.
Plus, every dollar the price of oil drops adds tens of millions more to the budget deficit. As of writing, the price of oil is $47.28. JP Morgan says oil could go as low as $38. It's like a fiscally unfortunate version of the Macarena.
To give a sense of a $3.5 billion deficit, let's play "budget God" for a paragraph: Zero out all funding for University of Alaska ($938 million), Medicaid ($693 million), and k-12 education ($1.3 billion). All gone. Poof. No more public education, no more healthcare for society's most vulnerable, no more support for higher education. We're still $500 million underwater, $500 million from balancing the budget.
That's why we call it fiscal apocalypse.
We're also sitting on $9 billion available budget reserves. Whew, right? But at this rate, we're gonna burn through $9 billion as though it were spare change — as in, it could all be gone as soon as 2018.
Alaska needs to confront its fiscal crisis. This means budget cuts. This means new revenues. Most important, it means summoning a collective sense of responsibility and purpose to secure our future.
The Alaska Legislature gets to figure out the details how it will be legalized.
To expand or not to expand? 40,000 Alaskans without reliable access to healthcare would become insured if Alaska expands Medicaid.
Critics of expansion (at least a few legislative Republicans) point out that Alaska will have to pay 10 percent of the cost to insure the 40,000 new Medicaid beneficiaries, and haven't-you-noticed, we're already staring into the maw of a monster $3.5 billion budget deficit.
Proponents (Governor Walker, legislative Democrats) argue that the feds will pay 90 percent of the cost, which is hardly a bad deal, and that providing healthcare for 40,000 uninsured, working class Alaskans is simply the right thing to do. Plus, Medicaid expansion basically means gobs more federal money sloshing around in the Alaska economy ($2.5 billion new economic activity over seven years according to these guys).
(I am a supporter of Medicaid expansion. More another time.)
(I write these newsletters. But we're adding an ongoing feature written by my caring, conscientious, mega hard working Juneau-based staff, Berett, Reid, and Miguel. — JKT)
While we can't always make musical puns on the projects we're writing, the life of a staffer is sweet in the office of Rep. JKT. And we're not just saying that because we had cookies in the office today.
So...who exactly is we?
Reid Magdanz, year-round-staffer, originally of Kotzebue. Reid now lives in Sitka, getting to know District 35 from beach to ridge line. He is equally skilled with spreadsheets and moose stews.
Miguel Rohrbacher. A local Juneauite attending UAS and studying Tlingit, he got hooked on the legislature last year after advocating Rep. JKT’s Alaska Native languages bill.
Office embarrassment levels already high.
And me! Berett Wilber. Raised in a fishing family in Sitka, graduated from college last June, back to absorb all the rain I missed while living in the Midwest.
We'll be putting together these notes. We want you to know what's happening in the capitol, and who's making it happen. Plus, we'll keep you updated on all the good work Rep. JKT is doing that he's too humble to tell you about. What are staffers for, if not a little strategic embarrassment? — Berett Wilber
Every year, we get a new set of statutes. The previous year’s end up in the recycling… unless you want them!
Legislative staffers not included either.
That’s right. It’s a one-time, first-come, first-serve opportunity to own the 9,954 pages of the law of our land. See how Miguel, Berett, and Reid look? Positively glowing with the weight of legal enlightenment in their hands! This could be you.
First person to email me gets them. Shipping not included.
Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins
Rep. JKT Media Management
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