Dear Neighbors & Friends,
Greetings from Juneau! First, please save the date for our next constituent meeting! Senator Begich and I will be hosting our second constituent meeting on March 21, 3:00 – 4:30 pm, in the Community Room of Mountain View Library. I hear that Senator Begich’s staff is planning to bring cupcakes … and we will talk about all of the activity down in Juneau. It is a busy legislative session. I am optimistic that we will come together on the big decisions.
Operating Budget Passes House
Today we had the Operating Budget on the House floor. We considered 35 amendments on a variety of topics, although some were withdrawn after introduction. The dividend is not included in this version of the budget as work continues on a sustainable fiscal plan. We will take up the dividend conversation later this session. Here are some budget highlights.
- The operating budget that passed the House of Representatives calls for $4.451 billion (UGF) in spending on essential programs and services.
- As our House Majority advocated for last year, the governor’s budget this year restores $128.3 million for Medicaid, $7.5 million for Adult Public Assistance, and $5 million for Pioneer Homes.
- Education funding is critical and this budget fully funds the BSA. Also, every student deserves a chance to succeed. Our budget makes a targeted $10.6 million investment in students with special needs. I am advocating for additional funds for education as are many others and we expect there will be additional funding through legislation that will pass this year and other budget opportunities. We are listening to the public in demanding full funding!
- Alaskans deserve to feel safe in their hometown, whether a large city or a rural village. That’s why our budget funds:
- $7.6 million to address Alaska’s growing prison population and for mental health and rehab services that will help inmates succeed when they get out of jail;
- $6.3 million to hire 36 Alaska State Trooper positions;
- $1.7 million was added to help increase the court system’s productivity;
- $1.6 million for criminal prosecutors;
- $1 million so evidence is processed quickly;
- $1 million to invest in the Village Public Safety Officer program;
- The State of Alaska’s Ocean Rangers Program that plays the vital role of making sure our waters and fisheries are protected from pollution was eliminated last year by Governor Dunleavy, even though this program was created through a citizen initiative voted on by the public. Also, the veto came on the heels of a court decision to fine Princess Cruises $20 million for illegal dumping in our waters. Our waters must be clean to support our wild salmon and other fisheries. We must stand up for Alaska and make sure these big corporations don’t pollute our waters. Our budget restores funding for this important program.
- The budget vetoes that put Alaska’s dairy industry is at risk of collapsing due to the administration’s attempt to defund the regulator who makes sure milk is healthy and safe before it goes onto shelves was overturned after significant public outcry. That’s why the agriculture community was shocked to see Governor Dunleavy again proposed elimination of the program in this year’s budget. We have a growing agriculture industry with unlimited opportunity and a new dairy came online last summer. It is required by the federal government that we administer the program so there is no other option. We added $180,000 to the Department of Environmental Conservation dairy program to strengthen Alaska’s food security.
- $1 million was added to protect Alaska Public Radio from making drastic service reductions that would harm rural communities. Public radio is the main communication network is many parts of our state and the main way important public safety information will get to residents. This modest investment will ensure critical health and safety information gets out to Alaskans.
- Alaska has more coastline than the entire rest of the US. We must have a functioning marine highway system. At this time, coastal communities are in crisis because of systemic failures of the Alaska Marine Highway System, including lack of planning for maintenance and extreme budget cuts ($43 million last year alone). Our budget invests $11 million to make sure people can access healthcare, food and supplies, and the outside world. This proposal also allows AMHS to receive $7.4 million (DGF) in ticket sales.
Supplemental Budget Passes the House
The big news last week was that the Supplemental Budget passed the House. This budget request from the Governor restored funding needed this year for Medicaid funding, which would have run out in March, but now is funded through the end of this fiscal year (June 30). The Supplemental Budget also contained significant funds to pay for last year’s fire season, a record year for fires.
Update on Personal Legislation
- Rape Kit Reform, HB 182, the bill that will shorten the time to process rape kits to 6 months, had its first hearing in House Finance, after already passing House State Affairs.
- HB 260, establishing a trauma-informed education policy for Alaska, has had two hearings in the Education Committee.
- HB 27, the bill regulating harmful flame retardant chemicals, is scheduled for a hearing on Friday.
- Hmong Veterans Day, HB 56, passed the House last year and is now in the Senate. Last week, HB 56 moved out of Senate State Affairs. This bill has strong support in both the House and the Senate. I am so excited to honor our Hmong Veterans, a long-awaited tribute.
Upcoming Community Council Meetings
The Airport Heights Community Council will meet on Thursday, March 19th, 7:00pm. Airport Heights Elementary School, 1510 Alder St.
The Mountain View Community Council’s next meeting will be Wednesday, March 11th at 6:00pm at the Mountain View Library, 120 Bragaw St.
The Russian Jack Community Council will also meet Wednesday, March 11th at 6:30 at Wonder Park Elementary, 5101 E 4th Ave.
Until next week,
P.S. Please get in touch if you want to know about a bill! You can receive text alerts on a bill by texting the bill number to 559-245-2529 to enroll. You will receive an enrollment confirmation and instructions on how to stop receiving the alerts. You can also receive email alerts by enrolling in the BTMF system here: https://www.akleg.gov/basis/btmf_login.asp?session=31