Greetings from Juneau.
The House Finance Committee is still working its way through the 96 amendments on the operating budget, and I expect to see it on the House Floor late this week or early next week.
The fast-track supplemental budget passed the House on Monday. While a supplemental budget is an annual occurrence, this year (and the reason it is referred to as “fast-track”) it is filled with emergency items that highlight just how close to the bone we have cut in recent years, including $24 million to allow the Alaska Marine Highway System to operate beyond mid-April of this year. Additionally, $30 million was inserted for Community Assistance, $5 million for the AK Permanent Fund’s external management fees and $4 million for the Disaster Relief Fund, some of which will be used for state matching funds in the pink salmon disaster relief.
On March 8, the House Transportation Committee heard from proponents of the Alaska Marine Highway Reform Initiative where it was requested of the committee to draft and sponsor legislation establishing the Alaska Marine Highway Corporation. With a vote of 5-2 in favor, legislation is now in the works that would investigate transforming the Alaska Marine Highway System into a public corporation. In my opinion, the argument for this transition is simple: Stability is next to impossible with an ever-changing Legislature effectively controlling annual operations for AMHS. As we saw on Monday in the fast-track supplemental budget, the Legislature has not been very good at anticipating operating costs for AMHS, and this only hinders ridership and cost recovery. Creating a public corporation would take AMHS out of the political arena and allow for stable planning.
My friend and co-chair Rep. Adam Wool made a great point during the meeting last week in which he questioned whether the success of the Ted Stevens International Airport would be possible were the Legislature in charge of operations. I suspect it would not be.
There is no question we have a long road leading to the establishment of a public corporation for AMHS, and I’m glad to report that the Legislature is beginning that journey.
I am very excited that Governor Walker and Lieutenant Governor Mallott wrote to the U.S. Department of Commerce requesting a fisheries disaster for 2018 Gulf of Alaska Pacific Cod Fishery. They also cc’d our congressional delegation.
As we have experienced with the pink salmon disaster, the road to securing federal disaster funding can be long and tenuous. Nonetheless, I am happy that the governor’s office took this important first step.
My office has been communicating frequently with Senator Murkowski’s and Sullivan’s offices over the last few weeks to get you some solid information about when our district can expect distribution of pink salmon disaster relief, how to apply, and how much of a share we will receive. Please remain patient as we try our best to sort through the quagmire that is the federal process. I will update you about this, as well as the status of the Pacific Cod request as I know more.
Next week in House fisheries
Next Tuesday, at 10 a.m., the committee will be holding confirmation hearings for two appointees to the Board of Fisheries, which you can view at www.akl.tv.
One of these appointees is Kodiak’s own Duncan Fields! We had two very good candidates from Kodiak this year, and I am pleased that the governor selected someone from our district. Orville Huntington is up for reappointment to the board as well.
The committee will review the appointees’ qualifications, ask questions, hold public testimony, and forward the names to the joint session for consideration. Committee confirmations are essentially an interview process for the public and legislators who don’t sit on the fisheries committee to learn about the appointees before a vote is taken in joint session.
I suspect that Duncan is going to face some opposition from the sports fishing industry and I would encourage you to call in and support our Kodiak appointment. The call-in number for public testimony is (844) 586-9085. Also, if you want to have your support of Duncan put on the public record, please email written testimony to HouseFisheries@akleg.gov.
Next Thursday, at 10 a.m., the committee will be having a presentation by ADF&G on pike as an invasive species in Alaska, their predation on salmon smolt, and what is being done to address this issue. This is a huge problem in the Mat-Su and Kenai and it is having repercussions on Kodiak fisheries management as well. This will be a very informative presentation that should be of interest to anyone who sets a net or casts a line in the water. You can view the presentation on www.akl.tv.
Every Friday, I post the legislative schedule for the following week to my Facebook page. Your input is crucial in the crafting of legislation and I want to encourage you to check the schedule at the end of each week so you do not miss any chances to testify.
If you would like to take part in any of the public testimony opportunities on any bills of interest, please let my office know by calling (907) 465-4648, or by emailing me at Rep.Louise.Stutes@akleg.gov.
All meetings can be viewed at www.akl.tv.
As always, please contact me and tell me how you feel. Whether your thoughts are on the budget, new revenue, fisheries or transportation issues, or something that is important to you and your family, I’m here for you and will always endeavor to work on your behalf.