Dear Friends, Neighbors, and Fellow Fairbanksans,
Summer is underway in Fairbanks, with many bright and sunny days ahead of us! Meanwhile, the Governor’s Special Session has concluded, and Legislators have headed home from Juneau. I am looking forward to being home more often during this beautiful time of year, but there is unfinished business that the Legislature is working on. Right now, I am serving on a working group made up of four House and four Senate members to explore the history of the Permanent Fund and ask critical questions. We have had only a few meetings so far, but I am optimistic that the conversations will contribute to better decision making for the future of the PFD.
Even though we are adjourned from our first special session, the Governor has already called us into a second special session to begin July 8 in Wasilla. The Governor intends to hold this special session to allow the Legislature to discuss the Permanent Fund in more depth.
The Big Question: What about the Permanent Fund?
Recently, the Legislature passed an Operating budget that makes reasonable cuts while preserving State programs and services such as k-12 education, the University, transportation, and health and social services. It remains to be seen whether the Governor will choose to line-item veto parts of this budget. If he does, the Legislature will need to come back together to vote on these vetoes. We also recently passed the Capital budget, although this process was not without its bumps in the road. The House spent several hours debating an amendment which would have provided for a $3000 PFD in the Capital budget, but this was voted down in a 21-15 vote by both Democrats and Republicans. We weren’t the only ones having the conversation about a large PFD.
On Tuesday, June 4, the Senate considered SB 1002, which would have funded a $1600 PFD by using $770 million from the general fund, $172 million from the budget reserve fund, and a further $128 million from the Alaska higher education investment fund that was established under Governor Sean Parnell’s administration. Part of this proposal would utilize funds that are meant to subsidize higher education waivers and the Alaska Performance Scholarship. The Senate then amended this proposal to increase the amount of the PFD payments to $3,000 for this year. The bill failed to pass the Floor.
The votes being taken on the PFD are not drawn on party lines, with many democrats supporting a high PFD payment and many Republicans supporting a more sustainable PFD. As the debate continues, I intend to hold my ground in supporting a responsible PFD that will allow the fund to continue for generations to come. You can read more about my stance in my Community Perspective that was recently published here.
Education Funding Lawsuit
A few weeks ago, both bodies of the Legislature have taken action to pursue a lawsuit against the Governor’s administration for failing to uphold the forward funding of education that was signed into law last year.
The Governor has asserted that the forward funding is unconstitutional because it holds a future legislature to a fiscal appropriation. The legislature feels this is untrue, since the Legislature had the opportunity to change the appropriation this year and chose to stick with the forward funding passed last year.
Education funding should not be part of the political game that the Governor is playing in Juneau, and the decision to file suit against the Governor is supported by both Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate. Legislative Council now has the authority to move forward with the legal suit; I will keep you updated on how this effort progresses.