March 4, 2024

 

Dear Friends and Neighbors:


The Legislature has been extremely busy with budget subcommittee close out the last two weeks, addresses by Senator Sullivan and Representative Peltola and long floor sessions, but it looks like we’ll be able to catch our breath a little this week. There may even be time for some pickle ball!

 

On February 21, 2024, Senator Sullivan addressed the Legislature. During his speech he gave a shout out to the Freshmen Caucus, which I am a member of, for our fresh look at governing. To underline the senator’s comment: it was members of the Freshmen Caucus who pulled together SB 140, the bill increasing the BSA, supporting the Reads Act, and making other changes in education. In addition, in his address, he recognized the resolution we passed last year in opposition to the Wild Fish Conservancy Lawsuit seeking to shut down the Southeast Alaska Chinook troll fishery. 

 

On February 26, 2024 Representative Peltola gave her annual address to the Legislature and talked about her efforts to block the Kroger (owns 12 Fred Meyer Stores in Alaska) and Albertson (owns 35 Safeway and Carrs stores in the state) merger. Additionally, she mentioned her support for the landslide prediction funding Senator Murkowski is sponsoring, among many other things.

 

Both the Senator and the Representative talked about federal investments in workforce and broadband, and the effort to close loopholes on the importation of fish from Russian sources. 


If you will be in town, please call (907.465.3732) or email (rep.himschoot@akleg.gov) to set up an appointment and/or be introduced on the floor.  To learn more about what is going on in Juneau, you, your friends, and neighbors can subscribe to Southeast Swell by emailing rep.himschoot@akleg.gov or by signing up on this website.

It was an honor to speak briefly about my mom, Bonnie, in a special order on the House Floor last week, to honor her birthday and to help legislators focus on the important work of budget subcommittees as we fund the state’s commitment to public education, public safety and public welfare with a quote from author Arundhati Roy: “There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless.’ There are only the deliberately silenced, or preferably unheard.”

Legislative Update

NEWS FLASH - Legislature plans to meet in Joint Session on March 12, 2024, to vote on Governor Dunleavy's Executive Orders.



HJR 7 - A Constitutional Amendment


Last week the House debated amendments to House Joint Resolution 7, which would add language to the Constitution that would obligate the state to pay out a dividend in the amount in state law. We will continue to debate the resolution this week. In order for this constitutional amendment to go into effect, it must pass the House and Senate by a two thirds vote and then be approved by a majority vote of Alaskans in a referendum. 

 

This resolution is one of the measures the bi-partisan Fiscal Policy Working Group identified in their work and report to the 32nd legislature. They also recommended a number of other measures the Legislature must take to assure solvency into the future, including:  


  • Constitutional, single-account Permanent Fund structure with draws limited by percent of market value (POMV)
  • Constitutional certainty for the Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD)
  • New POMV-based PFD formula
  • Healthy capital budget
  • New revenues
  • Budget reductions
  • Spending cap reform
  • Several-year “transition period” with one-time fiscal measures
  • Resilience to fiscal stress
  • Constitutional Budget Reserve reform
  • Process: a comprehensive solution must be negotiated and agreed to as whole, not be taken up one part at a time.
  • Process: at all times, keep in mind what can realistically pass the legislature--“the rule of 21 and 11,” and “the constitutional rule of 27 and 14” — being mindful of the diverse viewpoints within the legislature, as well as what can achieve public support, including for the ratification of a constitutional amendment.

 

We have a long way to go to realize the recommendations of the Fiscal Policy Working Group. I can consider putting the dividend in the Constitution as part of this larger package, but I hesitate to make the dividend a Constitutional priority over education and public safety funding. When the Legislature in 1976 established the Permanent Fund, the summary of the proposition included this statement: “The principal of the fund would be used only for income-producing investments permitted by law and the income from the fund would be deposited in the general fund of the State and be available to be appropriated for expenditure by the State unless otherwise provided by law.”

 

Today, with a quarter of the oil we once had and three times the number of Alaskans, we have reached the rainy day the legislators in 1976 saw coming. It is the responsibility of the 33rd and future Legislatures to ensure the fund is intact for future generations.


The dividend was added in 1980 to ensure Alaskans benefited from the mineral wealth of the state. In 2017, the courts ruled that the legislature’s use of Permanent Fund income is subject to normal appropriation and veto budgetary processes and is not exempt from the Constitution’s anti-dedication clause. In other words, permanent fund income is not automatically dedicated to the payment of dividends and the payments must go through the budget process. In addition, the income from the permanent fund can be used to fund other functions of government. The legislature currently uses income from the permanent fund to support state services and pay a dividend.

 

 

Bills that Passed the House last Week

 

HB 148

HB 148, AK PERFORMANCE SCHOLARSHIP, ELIGIBILITY passed the House this week by a unanimous vote. This bill to improve the Alaska Performance Scholarship is an important step in supporting our students who wish to pursue a higher education. It includes a much earlier notification of award, which is hoped to keep more Alaska students in-state. I am eager for this bill to pass in the Senate.

 

HB 89

HB 89, CHILD CARE: TAX CREDITS/ASSISTANCE/GRANTS, sponsored by Representative Coulombe, also easily passed the House last week. This bill will strengthen the childcare system in Alaska, by making child care subsidies more inclusive, aligning the assistance level with the actual cost of childcare, making child care expenditures eligible for tax credits, increasing the tax credit limit, and providing grants for the highest quality child care facilities and most deserving families. This bill is important at a time when more and more Alaskans cannot find and/or afford child care.

 

 

Budget Finance Subcommittee Close Out

 

My budget subcommittees wrapped up last week, except for Fish and Game, which will close out this Tuesday.

 

In the Department of Public Safety Budget Subcommittee, I offered three amendments, and I was disappointed to see them all fail. Importantly, I asked to restore funding to the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (CDVSA) to the level the council was funded last year. With nearly a decade of flat funding the Council has struggled to maintain programs such as Sitkans Against Family Violence, Helping Ourselves Prevent Emergencies in Craig, and Working Against Violence for Everyone in Petersburg. These are the critical agencies that provide care for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, sadly an area in which Alaska consistently ranks near the top nationally. In the Governor’s budget for FY 2025 there is a reduction of almost $4 million dollars for the Council compared to the amount in last year’s budget. There are still opportunities for funding to be restored to the FY 2024 level, and I will work to make sure it is!

 

In the Department of Education and Early Development Budget Subcommittee, I offered an amendment to divert $5 million in the Governor’s budget from the Alyeska Reading Academy and Institute in Anchorage, to Head Start. In the past year the Alyeska Reading Academy and Institute, a new division of the Department of Education and Early Development has not proven that it is making the best use of finite state funds in its efforts to help students across the state learn to read. 

 

In the past year the Alyeska Reading Academy and Institute spent over a million dollars to renovate a 10,000 square foot space in Anchorage and hire a few staff members, including a teacher for over $100,000. For perspective, I retired from a career in public education after 30 years and I was making well short of six digits. The Institute has done very little substantive work to assist students and teachers in improving students ability to read.

 

In contrast, Head Start is a proven program with generous federal support which serves 3,000 children from low-income families across the state. The state currently funds Head Start at 11%. A 20% match is required to receive the full federal investment in high quality early childhood education and as a result these critical programs are reducing the number of staff and classrooms, and in some instances, programs are closing. It is absolutely essential the state restore its contribution to 20% which is equal to an additional $5.2 million in funding.

 

Legislators from both sides of the aisle supported my amendment, recognizing that it makes more sense to invest in Head Start than in the Alyeska Reading Academy and Institute. Funding for the Alyeska Reading Academy and Institute may be brought back in future budget deliberations, but for now the funding has been moved to an established, high functioning and absolutely necessary program, Head Start.

 

SB 140 Update

 

As you may have heard, the Governor threatened to veto SB 140, the comprehensive education package the House and Senate recently passed, unless the legislature passes a bill that includes more of his education priorities (teacher bonuses, additional provisions to support charter schools and a different form of reading assistance). While the House and Senate continue to negotiate with the governor, it is unclear if there is legislative support to add these provisions.

 

The Governor has 15 days, from the day the bill passed both bodies, to consider the bill.  If the Governor does veto SB 140, the legislature has five days to meet in joint session to vote to override the veto. To override the veto of a bill it requires two-thirds (40 votes) of the combined membership of the House and Senate to vote in favor of the override. In addition to passing the bill, the legislature must include the funding in the budget for provisions in the bill, and the Governor has an opportunity to veto all or a portion of the funding. It takes three-fourths (45 votes) of the combined House and Senate to override a veto of a budget item.

Happy to pass HB 148, making many improvements to the Alaska Performance Scholarship, last week with this crew of dedicated legislators and Sana Efird, Director of the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education 

What You Can Do

Apply for your Permanent Fund Dividend, Participate in the Education Raffle, and/or Pick Click Give 


Pick Click Give 

  • Be sure to consider using the Pick Click Give program when you file for your PFD to support nonprofit organizations doing important work in House District 2 and around the state. The program was created with legislation in 2008 and it allows Alaskans to donate a portion or all of their Permanent Fund Dividend to eligible charitable and educational organizations. In 2023, 22,690 donors pledged to donate $3,218,075. There are 37 organizations that are based in House District 2 communities. Consider donating a portion of your dividend to one or more of these organizations.  


Fill out Your FAFSA!

  • The Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education (ACPE) provides education and career funding solutions. Currently leading the Alaska FAFSA Completion Initiative, ACPE offers a variety of resources to support and increase FAFSA completion. Historically, Alaska ranks last or next to last in national FAFSA completion rates, resulting in our students losing out on millions of dollars in financial aid opportunities each year. In collaboration with education stakeholders across the State, ACPE is working to change that! Visit acpe.alaska.gov/FAFSACompletionInitiative to learn more.



Share how you would Balance the State of Alaska Budget

  • Commonwealth North invites you to go to www.akbudget.com and suggest how the state should balance the budget. Your individual suggestions will be confidential, but the full results will be shared with the legislature. Commonwealth North was founded in 1979 by Governors Bill Egan and Walter Hickel. Commonwealth North’s mission is to educate Alaskans on significant public policy issues and assist in identifying effective solutions.  


Apply for the Alaska Association of Harbormasters & Port Administrators Scholarship


 Follow the Legislature and Comment


  • If there is a bill or resolution you want to follow, you can get an email update every time action is taken on the legislation with the Bill Tracking Management Facility.