Dear Friends and Neighbors,
As the dust settles after the second special session, I wanted to update you on some of the Governor’s vetoes in HB 2001, what was restored in that bill, my thoughts on a third special session, as well as 2016 pink salmon disaster relief.
I’ll start with one of the most vital issues to Kodiak, which is the winter ferry schedule. Along with all of you, I was extremely disappointed that Governor Dunleavy chose to veto the additional $5 million I had secured for the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS). Prior to the veto, I had been working AMHS and secured commitments that the bulk of that funding would be used in our district. Make no mistake, the veto of that funding was a veto of your winter ferry service. I find it extremely disingenuous that the Administration held public comments on the draft winter schedule, heard the outcry from coastal communities, and then the Governor proceeded to veto funding intended to help fix the problem.
On the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) website, the Governor justifies his veto by stating that “This was a Legislative addition but is premature until the Department and their consultant finalize the review of the AMHS.” So, after holding statewide public comment on the winter schedule, seeing over 260 community members attend the recent House Transportation Committee hearing in Cordova on said schedule, and with service about to end in several weeks’ time in certain communities, it is “premature” to allow funding to move forward that would address the issue? It is clear to me that despite any claims of listening to Alaskans, the Governor is not listening to rural Alaska.
AMHS anticipates that a new schedule should be out in “early” September. I’ll be honest, I am not encouraged with my recent discussions with AMHS. The veto of the $5 million and the cost of the recent strike have severely limited the options for increasing our winter service; however, I certainly have not given up and am continuing to meet with AMHS, trying to pull every lever I can. I’ll update you as soon as I know more.
The Governor’s vetoes in HB 2001 were, honestly, a mixed bag, with the Governor allowing some previously vetoed items to be restored, while vetoing others a second time. Items vetoed in the bill totaled $222 million. Notable second-time vetoes included $49 million for school bond debt reimbursement, $19.7 million from the Regional Education Attendance Area and Small Municipal School District (REA) Fund, $50 million from Medicaid funding, $27 million from Medicaid coverage for adult dental services, $6.1 million from behavioral health treatment recovery grants, $30 million from the Community Assistance Fund, $7.4 million from adult public assistance, $3 million from the VPSO Program, $2.7 million for public broadcasting, $3.4 million for the Ocean Ranger program, $209,600 for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, and $943,676 for the Kodiak Electric Association. Sadly, the Governor also vetoed portions ($217,000) of our region’s ADF&G Commercial Fisheries Division budget a second time. Although we now have a commitment from the Commissioner to take those reductions from areas other than our weirs (Originally, the reduction was achieved by eliminating weir time for Kodiak weirs). Finally within ADF&G, the Governor eliminated funding a second time for the Directors of the Habitat and Subsistence Divisions to pay for two budget analyst positions in his office.
On a positive note, the Legislature was able to restore many of the original vetoes in HB 2001. Restored items included $110 million for the University of Alaska (still a $25 million cut), $20.7 million for the Senior Benefits Program, $8.8 million for early education programs ($6.8 million for Head Start, $320,000 for Best Beginnings, and $474,700 for Parents as Teachers), $670,000 for the Online with Libraries program, $138,200 for the Live Homework Help program, $759,000 for Alaska Legal Services (ALSC), $3.8 million for the Alaska State Council on the Arts, $100,000 for a veterans’ services officer, $2.2 million for human services matching grants and community initiative grants, $533,500 to reopen the Dept. of Law office in Utqiagvik, and $2.7 million for agricultural programs.
As I said, HB 2001 was a mixed bag. The legislature was able to restore some very damaging vetoes, but the Governor vetoed others a second time and eliminated our $5 million increase to AMHS operations.
I read an article that likened the Governor’s actions in allowing some items to be restored as someone who had robbed a home, only to return some of the items they took several weeks later. If that were true, I feel like the Governor also took something on his way out the door the second time with his veto of the AMHS increase.
The Governor has announced plans to call a third special session with the expressed purpose of appropriating an additional $1,400 to the PFD. My thoughts on that are the same as they have been all year. I know most of you have read my previous updates, so I will try not to repeat myself; however, the state cannot afford a $3,000 PFD. This is clearly evidenced by the Governor’s dismantling of rural Alaska to pay a super-sized dividend. Kodiak has been pretty clear with me where its priorities lie. Although we all value the PFD, the consensus I am getting from my district is that my constituents would rather maintain the services that make our communities a good place to live, work, and play and have a moderately-sized PFD than they would a very large PFD with no services. The Legislature appropriated a reasonable $1,600 PFD and I do not support an additional $1,400 because it is extremely irresponsible to present and future Alaskans. The Governor has not issued a special session proclamation yet and only time will tell whether he calls us back in or not.
Again, without repeating myself too much, Alaska needs a comprehensive plan that includes looking at oil tax reform, some form of a broad-based tax, continued budget reductions, and changes to the PFD. That is the plan that will preserve communities like Kodiak for generations to come, not the “slash services to nothing and pay a large PFD” plan. Keep in mind that although the Governor relented on certain vetoes for now, the only thing that really changed is his timetable. His plan is still the same and he will be seeking further draconian reductions in the three years to follow.
This has been a very hard year for Alaska and the communities I represent. At times, it has been difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, I believe that Alaskans have had a clear view at what the Administration’s vision for the state actually looks like and that, collectively, we have wholeheartedly rejected that vision. It is a vision of a lesser, depleted rural Alaska and it is something I oppose with every fiber of my being. The path forward will not be easy, but as long as I am your representative, I will continue to fight for an Alaska that supports communities like Kodiak, Cordova, Yakutat, and Seldovia. Public opinion has firmly shifted away from the Governor and his agenda, and I hope that, over time, this will continue to curb the Governor away from the destructive course he has charted for Alaska.
I want to take a brief moment to discuss the 2016 Pink salmon disaster relief funding. As most of you are probably aware, correspondence from the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSMFC) has been arriving in fishery participants’ mailboxes over the past few weeks. I am glad to see the process is finally moving along. If you do not receive paperwork shortly but think you are eligible, you should reach out to PSMFC at 1-888-517-7262 to receive instructions to start an appeal. I have been told that it can be several days or more before you get a return call from this number.
I am keenly aware of several issues regarding how the amounts for reimbursement were calculated. In particular, the way the 5-year average was calculated for people with a partial catch history, as well as the decision to calculate that average using all of a person’s limited entry permits instead of just that gear type resulted in significantly smaller payments for some who, for instance, are applying for 2016 seine reimbursement but may have fished a gillnet permit in 2012 and/or only fished 2014 seine. In some instances, having no catch history at all resulted in a much higher payment.
If you believe that you fall in this category, or have another issue to raise, please reach out to my office at 907-465-3271 as I am currently communicating our concerns to ADF&G, our congressional delegation, and PSMFC. My hope is that the department and our congressional delegation will join me in contacting PSMFC to make it clear that there were some oversights and that these particular issues should be addressed favorably in the appeals process.
On its website (https://www.psmfc.org/fishery-disaster-programs), PSMFC states that paperwork must be returned to the Commission office by October 31, 2019 to be considered for payment. It would be a good idea to have any appeal filed long before that date. The website also has a link to follow for additional information and FAQs regarding the process.
If you are filing an appeal, please contact my office. Our ability to contact PSMFC directly is limited but we have indirect avenues, and we will be happy to assist you through the process in any way we can. In the meantime, I am doing what I can to make ADF&G, our congressional delegation, and PSMFC aware of any problems and advocate for flexibility and a human element in the appeals process.
Remember I work for you, please contact me anytime to discuss these or any other issues that are important to you and your family.