House passes budget
May 11, 2021
Dear Neighbors,

After a third day of debate on amendments, the House passed an operating budget that protects core services and our Permanent Fund savings. We narrowly rejected numerous destructive amendments: 
  • We voted down proposals for super-sized dividends that would have drained our Permanent Fund savings and put the state into a fiscal death spiral.
  • We rejected cuts to oil spill response, in order to protect our fisheries and marine environment.
  • We rejected anti-vaccine amendments that would have prolonged the COVID pandemic.
  • We blocked efforts to gut public assistance.
  • We rejected an amendment that would have defunded foster care.
The House did approve an anti-abortion rights amendment which I opposed. This amendment mirrors similar language from past budgets which will almost certainly be struck down by the courts for being unconstitutional.
Having rejected most destructive amendments, the House passed the operating budget with support from members of all parties and caucuses. Here are some highlights of positive provisions in the operating budget:
  • Federal COVID-19 emergency funds available through the American Rescue Plan Act will be directed to community relief ($124.5 million), to tourism relief to help businesses stay afloat ($30 million), to helping offset lost small business revenue ($30 million), and to helping offset lost nonprofit revenue ($30 million).
  • Pre-K programs received $5 million in funding, and K-12 schools are funded ahead of time through House Bill 169, a bill that passed earlier this year to prevent the distribution of pink slips and to provide certainty for students, parents, and teachers that schools will receive adequate funding.
  • Communities that previously issued bonds to build schools, with the promise of being partially reimbursed by the State of Alaska, will receive all the money they are owed.
  • The University of Alaska is funded without additional cuts.
  • The Alaska Marine Highway System is forward funded for 18 months, a move that provides Coastal Alaskans with certainty that ferries will arrive when they are needed.
  • The Tribal Child Welfare Compact is fully funded, allowing the State of Alaska to continue advancing efforts to protect the wellbeing of every vulnerable child in our state.
  • Seven additional public defender positions are financed to bolster Alaska’s public safety division and keep cases moving through the court system in a timely fashion.
  • Power Cost Equalization, scholarships provided through the Higher Education Fund, alcohol safety and chronic disease prevention programs, substance abuse grants, domestic violence and sexual assault prevention programs, and oil spill prevention and response were all financed.
  • Domestic Violence relief and treatment programs and shelter centers, which lost funding due to federal funds being cut, would be fully funded. Thank you to Suzi Pearson of AWAIC for your advocacy on this front.
ABLE Act passes the House:
I'm proud to report that the House passed the ABLE Act unanimously. I owe thanks to Senator Giessel for writing this legislation last year and encouraging me to re-introduce the bill after Covid prevented it from passing last year. The Labor and Commerce Committee collaborated on this committee bill and I am grateful to my fellow members for their work, including to Representative Nelson for helping me carry this bill on the floor.

ABLE accounts are tax-free savings accounts for individuals with qualifying disabilities. This bill updates Alaska's ABLE Act to match federal guidelines.
Renewable Energy Legislation:
  • The House passed SB 69, a bill that encourages private investment in renewable energy projects by extending an exemption from duplicative government regulations for independent power producers. Thanks to Senator Revak for his leadership on this bill, which Representative Spohnholz and I fast-tracked through Labor and Commerce.
  • The House Energy Committee and the House Labor and Commerce Committee each passed out a committee substitute for HB 170, a bill that establishes the Alaska Clean Energy Program and Alaska Clean Energy Fund. On these committees, I worked with other legislators to expand capitalization of the proposed "green bank" and ensure equitable investments are made across rural Alaska.
Anchorage Mayoral Run-off:


Today is the last day to vote in the Anchorage Mayoral run-off election! You must submit your ballot to the various ballot box locations across Anchorage by 8pm tonight. You can find the list of locations here. You can also mail in your ballot, but make sure it is postmarked with today's date, May 11th. In addition, in-person voting is available at the Loussac Library, City Hall, and the Eagle River Town Center.
See you around the neighborhood,
Zack
P.S. Alaskans ages 12 and older are now eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine.
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