May 19, 2023
Dear Friends and Neighbors:
It has been an honor to serve as your representative for the first session of the 33rd Alaska State Legislature. Some good things are happening. See below for details.
A Budget Deal is Reached
We adjourned on the 121st day as required by the Constitution, but the Governor called us back into a special session yesterday because the Legislature failed to pass a budget. The final budget is balanced, provides a $1300 PFD, and includes additional funding to support childcare and Head Start programs across the state. These early childhood education additions are a great way to help build Alaska’s economy, improve education outcomes, and support working families. The Senate budget that was eventually adopted didn't have everything in it I would have liked, but this is the first time in nearly a decade we won't have to draw on dwindling savings. It is a fiscally sound budget.
On the first day of the special session the House majority and the Senate majority came to an agreement on the budget. The Senate began on the last day of the regular session by cutting some funding for child-care grants, senior home-care grants and oil and gas credits as a concession to the House majority. After a full day of negotiations between the Senate and House majorities there was an agreement to add $34 million in capital projects to the budget. With this addition of money for capital projects enough members of the House majority agreed to concur with the Senate version of the budget.
In the budget we passed, even with the additional $34 million, there is very little capital money to help with Alaska’s aging infrastructure. The federal funds to rebuild our ferry system require state matching money and those funds have been secured. We hope to see the ferry system begin to function on a predictable schedule over the next few years; please be patient. There is also a little federal transportation funding that will go to some road work on Prince of Wales and some funds for cruise dock electrification in Southeast, though it’s a limited amount in this budget cycle.
I am glad we could come to an agreement on a budget, and while it is far from perfect, it does have some important items I can support, including $175 million of one time funding for education. I will continue to work with my colleagues on a long term fiscal plan over the interim and advocate for a permanent increase to the base student allocation to provide stable and predictable funding for our schools.
Legislation I’ve Introduced
When the legislature returns in January I will request hearings for two bills, HB 163 and HB 201.
HB 163, FAFSA RAFFLE, incentivizes high school students to apply for the Free Application for Federal Student Assistance (FAFSA). The FAFSA is the first step in securing financial aid for technical school or university, and Alaska has the lowest completion rate in the nation. Alaska’s students left over $6 million in federal tuition aid on the table last year, money which could be used at AVTEC, in the UA system, or at any post-secondary institution in the Lower 48. HB 163 is already co-sponsored by the 16 members of the Freshman Caucus, but with four committees of referral in the House it will have a long road.
HB 201, RESIDENCY REQ: HUNTING, TRAPPING, FISHING is a bill to match our sportfishing, hunting and trapping regulations to the residency requirements of the Permanent Fund. This bill was suggested by many Prince of Wales constituents, and as our fish and game resources become increasingly limited it’s important to prioritize the needs of Alaskans over out of state guests. This bill only has two committees of referral in the House, and I hope to make progress on both of these pending pieces of legislation right away in January.
When I ran for election, I heard and felt the frustration of folks across the district that the Legislature argues each year about the size of the PFD, and that we don’t have a viable fiscal plan. While we still don’t have a fiscal plan, it has generally become accepted by all legislators that Alaska will need a broad-based tax to provide the services Alaskans need and that support our private sector. There may be a special session In October to continue working on stabilizing the state’s budget, which will include a statewide tax. As the representative for a very rural district, in any discussion of revenues, I will support some changes to oil taxes, an education head tax, an income tax and then, only as a last resort, a limited sales tax. If a sales tax is inevitable, I will advocate to make it seasonal only and to have food and heating fuel exemptions added.
Over the coming months I hope to visit each of the 22 communities in House District 2. My interim aide, Dawson, will spend some time in House District 2 communities, and he will be available when I’m not. Since my summer visits are not fully mapped out, we’ll do our best to post on Facebook, broadcast on the radio and let folks know when we’ll be in your community. The best part of this job is the time I get to spend in the district, visiting constituents and enjoying the islands and coast we call home.
Finally, it would be impossible to work for the communities of House District 2 without a whole lot of great back up support. My colleagues, Thatcher and Ann, have formed a powerful, positive and unstoppable team of advocates for the district and I am deeply grateful for their support and expertise. Thatcher will be trolling this summer, and Ann will be “grandma-ing,” but both will be back in the office on January 16th when the 33rd Legislature continues.
During the interim please stay in touch and look for a monthly edition of the Southeast Swell. Please continue to reach out! You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call my office at (907) 465-3732, with general questions, suggestions or concerns.
As always, please share Southeast Swell with your contacts and encourage them to sign up to receive the newsletter – we would like to reach more people in House District 2!
In addition, if you are a new subscriber to the newsletter, you can read past editions on my page of the House Coalition website.