In this issue
  • House Ways and Means: Analyzing the Governor's Fiscal Plan
  • Investigation of former Permanent Fund Corporation CEO's termination
  • My 2022 legislative priorities
  • Free COVID-19 tests and guidelines
Looking to Our Fiscal Future
Rep. Spohnholz chairs the House Special Committee on Ways and Means with an overview of the Governor's 10-year fiscal plan.
In the House Special Committee on Ways and Means, we kicked off the 2022 legislative session with a series of hearings on the Governor's 10-year fiscal plan and the impacts of his proposal.

The legal requirements for the 10-year fiscal plan are clear: "[it] must balance sources and uses of funds held while providing for essential state services and protecting the economic stability of the state." The governor's budget only balances by
  1. using $375 million in one-time federal dollars we should use for one-time expenses and
  2. spending $700 million in savings.
It is not a balanced, sustainable fiscal plan.

To make matters worse, his plan fails to adequately adjust for inflation. Alaskans know how the decreased value of the dollar impacts goods and services. Superintendent of the Year, Dr. Bridget Weiss testified that since 2017, the cost of a single box of 24 crayons has increased from $0.40 to $2.79.

The governor proposes flat funding with inflation adjustments at only 1.5% for the non-Medicaid budget, despite the fact that as a state we are currently experiencing an inflation rate of 7%. Inflation rates for medical services in Anchorage are currently 47%, which are unacceptably high, but his proposed Medicaid budget projects no inflation in FY23 and then only 1% inflation for the next nine years -- this is unrealistic.

Effectively, this artificially low inflation rate means a cut to every part of the budget because our dollars next year won't be able to buy the same amount of goods and services.
Legislative Budget and Audit Committee approves investigation of former Permanent Fund Corporation CEO's termination
Last week, I voted with the Legislative Budget and Audit (LB&A) Committee to unanimously approve funding and subpoenas powers to investigate the termination of former executive director of the Permanent Fund Corporation, Angela Rodell.

After leading the corporation through a great year on our returns on investments, and receiving international accolades for her leadership, the Permanent Fund Board of Trustees terminated Ms. Rodell in early December, claiming performance issues.

The LB&A Committee questioned the Permanent Fund Corporation Board Chair, Craig Richards, and reviewed personnel files and performance evaluations for Ms. Rodell in the week prior and found them to be insufficient for termination. I am grateful to Committee Chair Von Imhof's speedy and judicious action on this issue. Permanent Fund earnings supply the majority of our state's revenue and must be safeguarded from party politics for the good of Alaska.
Representatives Spohnholz, Schrage, Snyder, and Hopkins met with public educators in Juneau after hearing HB 220 in the House Labor and Commerce (L&C) Committee. HB 220, Rep. Hopkins' bill to improve defined benefits for public employees in Alaska, was passed out of L&C committee last week.
My 2022 Legislative Priorities
HB 265 - Expanding Telehealth in Alaska
HB 265 seeks to make permanent those pandemic-related changes that made it easier for Alaskans to get the care they needed at a price that is right – cutting red tape, removing the need for unnecessary travel, and creating more flexibility around how that health care is delivered. This bill helps modernize Alaska’s health care system, provide cost-savings for consumers, and improve health outcomes for all Alaskans.

HB 111 - Creating a Dental Hygienist Advanced Practice Permit
Many Alaskans face barriers to dental care due to socioeconomic barriers, lack of licensed dentists in rural Alaska, and challenges with mobility due to illness or disability. Dental hygienists provide critical preventative dental care. HB 111 would allow experienced Alaska-licensed dental hygienists to practice independently with an Advanced Practice Permit to provide screenings and cleanings in community based settings, in rural Alaska, and for low income populations independently, much like nurse practitioners have done for many years.

HB 259 - Permanent Fund dividend formula and funding for essential public services
For years our state and its people have suffered the consequences of structural deficits and fiscal uncertainty. This has had a particularly profound impact on our constitutional obligation to provide public education to the children of Alaska. HB 259 re-writes the statutory PFD formula to provide Alaskans a sustainable and predictable PFD, and a stable, growing fund source for K-12 education, without compromising funding for other essential government services.
Free COVID-19 Test Kits
With the recent COVID-19 surge, I hope everyone is staying safe and doing what they can to protect others. You may have heard that every household in the United States is eligible to order four free at-⁠home COVID-⁠19 tests at COVIDtests.gov. Orders usually ship in 7-12 days.

If you are looking for COVID-19 tests in your area, you can check out the Anchorage Innovation Team's online resource for locations to buy at-home test kits. And, make sure you keep your receipt: since January 15th, most health insurance plans must pay for eight tests per month.

You can also find a local testing site.

At-Home COVID-19 Tests in the Cold?
I've heard concerns from constituents about leaving these at-home COVID-19 test kits. The FDA released a Frequently Asked Questions document which addresses this issue:

  • In order to ensure appropriate test performance with a test that is delivered to you in below freezing temperatures, you should bring the package inside your home and leave it unopened at room temperature for at least two hours before opening it.
  • Once the package is at room temperature, you may open it and perform the test according to the authorized instructions for use.
  • As long as the test line(s) appear as described in the instructions, you can be confident that the test is performing as it should.
  • If the line(s) do not appear in the correct location(s) and within the correct time as shown in the test instructions when you perform the test, then the results may not be accurate, and a new test is needed to get an accurate result.

If you think you had a problem with a COVID-19 test, the FDA encourages you to report the problem through the MedWatch Voluntary Reporting Form.

If you have questions, email the Division of Industry and Consumer Education (DICE) at DICE@FDA.HHS.GOV or call 800-638-2041 or 301-796-7100.
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