Greetings from Juneau.
It has been a long couple of weeks working through the operating budget on the House Floor. As I write this, we still have a few of the 84 total amendments left to consider. I am anticipating a final vote during the first part of next week to pass the budget over to the Senate.
I had hoped the operating budget would have been further along by this point, as I was looking forward to coming home for Easter and holding an open house at the LIO this weekend. Instead, I will remain in Juneau until the House has passed our budget over to the Senate. At that time, I will try to get home for a weekend with the intent of having an open house. It will be good to see and hear from my friends.
More on the operating budget
Out of the 84 amendments, one really stuck out this last Monday, as I’m sure many of you are aware.
Amendment #1 passed the House by one vote (21-19). It increases state spending by $900 million to fully fund the Permanent Fund Dividend.
I voted no and here’s why. We have heard year after year from the experts that fully funding the dividend without new revenue will result in the program going away entirely in less than 5 years. What this means is that under the plan adopted Monday on the House Floor, you will receive a full PFD for another 4 or 5 years, and then nothing after that if the state cannot find new revenue.
So, there is the question. Do we want the dividend in perpetuity, or do we want a few years of big checks and nothing beyond that?
While I understand how important these PFD dollars are to rural Alaskans, I believe it is irresponsible to fully fund the PFD with the current fiscal situation of the state. We need a fiscal plan that ensures the continuation of the program for future generations.
This is an important issue to us all, and while the vote to restore full funding passed on the House Floor, the issue is far from resolved as it moves to the Senate next, and finally the governor’s desk. I would encourage you to email me at Rep.Louise.Stutes@akleg.gov or call my office at (907) 465-4087 with your comments and concerns.
As many of you have probably heard, Duncan Fields has withdrawn his name as an appointee to the Board of Fisheries. Al Cain, whose seat Duncan was going to fill, had previously intended to end his tenure after the expiration of his appointment this summer. He has now decided to seek re-appointment, and Governor Walker has nominated him to remain on the board. I am very disappointed with this outcome as Duncan would have done a fabulous job for Kodiak and the state as a whole.
I consider myself a straight shooter, and I want to give you my honest appraisal of the other factors at play. Obviously, there was tremendous pressure from sport fishing organizations across the state on legislators and the governor regarding Duncan’s appointment. Board of Fisheries confirmations tend to be a lightning rod for controversy. I believe that despite my, Senator Stevens’, and many others’ best efforts to convince people that Duncan was the right choice for that seat, he was facing a lot of pressure to withdraw his name. I would like to thank Duncan for putting his name forward, as well as all of you who submitted supporting comments on his behalf. He would have been a fair, smart and effective member of the board.
The presentation on pike predation of salmon smolt has been postponed for a week or so to give ADF&G time to redo it. The presentation as submitted by the department focused too much on predation of Chinook smolt in the Deshka River and Alexander Creek drainages. This is a presentation that we have seen before. From the perspective of Kodiak’s fisheries, the pike predation of sockeye in the Susitna drainage is the real concern. It is beyond alarming that in 2015, only three sockeyes returned to Shell Lake compared to 69,800 that returned in 2006. Pike are almost certainly to blame for this drastic reduction, and more needs to be done to address the issue. I will let you know when we have a corrected presentation in hand and have it rescheduled.
Fisheries next Tuesday
Next Tuesday at 10 a.m., the House Fisheries Committee will be introducing a new committee substitute (CS) to HB 199, explaining the changes and taking committee questions. We had originally planned on hearing the CS yesterday, but the draft needed another revision to get it fine-tuned. The changes in the CS are substantial and I believe the new version will be a workable product for industry, as well as a much-needed update to our fish habitat permitting law.
Fisheries next Thursday
It was our intention last week to hold confirmation hearings for the Board of Fisheries. Unfortunately, due to the operating budget debate on the House Floor, we were unable to hold our scheduled meetings.
Next Thursday at 10 a.m., the House Fisheries Committee will be holding confirmation hearings and public testimony on the nominees for the Board of Fisheries. The call-in number for public testimony is (844) 586-9085. If you would like to submit written testimony, please send it to HouseFisheries@akleg.gov and I will make sure it is added to the public record and distributed to committee members.
Fisheries next Saturday
On Saturday, we will be taking public testimony on HB 199 from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. It is more than likely that we will not have enough time to get through all public testimony in one meeting, so we plan on scheduling an additional meeting the following week.
Again, the call-in number for public testimony is (844) 586-9085. If you would like to submit written testimony, please send it to HouseFisheries@akleg.gov and I will make sure it is added to the public record and distributed to committee members.
File for your PFD
Tomorrow is the last day to file for your PFD.
If you have not done so, please go to pfd.alaska.gov to apply online or to find out how to apply by mail. Mailed applications must be postmarked no later than March 31 to be considered timely.
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.