VETO OVERRIDE VOTE
Dear Neighbor,
Tomorrow at 10:30am, the legislature will convene in joint session to vote on overriding the Governor's vetoes of Marine Highway and school bond debt reimbursement funding. I intend to vote "yes" to override. It is unacceptable that coastal communities have been cut off from ferry service for long periods of time, and that veto of school bond debt reimbursement shifts tens of millions of dollars in costs onto the back of local property tax payers.
Victory: DOC Cancels RFP for Out-of-State Prisons
Big news: Following introduction of my bill (HB 187) to prohibit out-of-state prisoner shipment and private prisons, the Department of Corrections has cancelled an RFP that would have sent hundreds of prisoners and millions of public dollars out of state. Now is the time to permanently prohibit private prisons and out-of-state prisons, and I look forward to continuing to advance this regulation. I want to thank many legislators for their work on this important issue, including Representative Rauscher (whose district includes Palmer Correctional Center), and bill cosponsors Sharon Jackson, Dan Ortiz, Ivy Spohnholz, Harriet Drummond, Andy Josephson, Grier Hopkins, and Chris Tuck.
Will we Save the Pioneer Homes?
Last year the House passed my bill (HB 96) to eliminate Governor Dunleavy’s massive Pioneer Home rate hikes. Now that bill is in the Senate, where—if passed—it would reverse the rate hikes and limit future rate increases to inflation. Thanks to Senator Begich for advocating for this bill. It’s not too late to save the Pioneer Homes.
Our Budget Choices:
The Governor’s budget is very different this year: Rather than a raft of destructive vetoes, it proposes draining our savings to the point that Alaska could be insolvent in the event of a stock market downturn or costly disaster. I have no doubt the legislature will reject his proposal to drain the Constitutional Budgetary Reserve and leave the state unable to pay bills. Many other budget questions remain:
  • Will we pass some form or new revenue?
  • Will we pass a General Obligation Bond to get moving on critical Port of Alaska repairs and other long-deferred maintenance?
  • How much savings will we use to expand the PFD from what, in a balanced budget scenario, would be a $550-$700 per person payment?
Our choices are really pretty simple: The only way to sustain large PFDs (in the $1,600 range) is to increase revenue. Many legislators don’t want to impose taxes simply to sustain a large PFD, and I share that view. Our number one goal should be to restore public safety, infrastructure, and education investments that have fallen far short. We have roads going unplowed, leading to at least one death this year on the Glenn Highway. Anchorage has 50% fewer cops than communities of similar size in the Lower 48, while many rural communities lack any law enforcement at all. Class sizes have grown to 40 students in some schools, while “combo” classes combining grades in our district are a result of inadequate staffing. It’s important to note that the climate crisis is worsening our budget challenges, with a $95 million bill from this summer’s apocalyptic fires. Simply put, we have inadequate revenue, and our economy and public safety suffer as a result.
Hilcorps Acquisition of BP Assets:
I wrote to the Regulatory Commission of Alaska to ask that the RCA protect the public interest with respect to oil spill prevention and response, Alaska Hire, and contributions to community non-profits. Fortunately, the RCA is holding an additional public hearing on the acquisition from 3pm-9pm on February 4th. You can submit comments at rca.mail@alaska.gov. I’ve enclosed the letter I wrote below, and you can review the Alaska Public Interest Research Group’s input here. With the right safeguards, this acquisition could be very positive for Alaska, but we need regulators to protect the public interest. As you probably recall, it was thanks to Governor Knowles’ and legislators’ leadership that the BP/Arco merger included key commitments on spill prevention and response, Alaska Hire, and donations to community non-profits.
Our Local Schools:
My goal is to visit all schools in the district this winter and spring. Before Christmas, I visited Government Hill to participate in the Christmas Tree lighting ceremony. We are very fortunate to have a Spanish immersion program in our district. Our student’s Spanish language opportunities are growing as Inlet View Elementary has expanded Spanish instruction along with implementation of its new International Baccalaureate (IB) program. I visited Inlet View to learn about progress on IB implementation from Principal Ahrens and several teachers. It is incredible to see how hard our teachers and administrators work to keep improving ASD schools even with inadequate state funding for education, and I’m thrilled about the IB program expanding opportunities to ASD students.
Unfortunately, inadequate state funding means that Inlet View and many other schools have “combo” classes with multiple grades in the same room. Last I checked, we are not living in the frontier in the late 1800s and deserve better than the one room schoolhouse model of multiple classrooms all merged together. It’s not ASD’s fault—the state needs to provide more funding if our teachers are going to have a chance to provide instruction.
Snow Clearing:
One of the results of inadequate state revenue is much slower—and sometimes non-existent—snow clearing by DOTPF. When the state had not cleared the sidewalk along the Glenn Highway following heavy snowfall after Christmas, I asked them to clear it. We can’t have people with disabilities in wheelchairs on the Glenn Highway or Seward Highway in town. I appreciate DOTPF’s quick response getting the sidewalk cleared. Our state employees work very hard with inadequate resources, and I appreciate their commitment to safety in our district. If you notice sidewalks or roads that haven’t been cleared following snowfall, let my office know and we’ll try to follow up with the appropriate agency (in some cases the Muni, though Muni snow clearing is generally much faster).
Thanks for plowing through this entire too-long newsletter, and see you around the neighborhood,

Zack
Real ID Coming Soon: Beat the lines and visit the DMV now
Reminder: Beginning
in October 2020, you will need a Real ID or it's equivalent to board a commercial airline, enter a federal building, or gain access to a military base. For more information, visit: http://doa.alaska.gov/dmv/akol/ID%20News.htm
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