Greetings from Juneau.
Now that the House has passed the operating budget, committees are back at full speed as we race to the finish line in mid-April. The House is still striving for a 90-day session, and it appears that the Senate would like the same. There are still a few major pieces of legislation that both bodies have to work, through, but I remain hopeful that we will get the job done.
Here are a few highlights from the past week in Juneau.
Operating budget update
On Monday, the House passed the FY19 operating budget over to the Senate. As I wrote at the beginning of March, passing a responsible budget without incapacitating vital state services and finding a way forward with a sustainable fiscal plan must happen this year. I believe the budget we passed this week reflects that sentiment.
The state has cut 26 percent in Unrestricted General Funds since FY15, and we are seeing the real-life effects of the “cut more” philosophy with a noticeable decline in the state services upon which we rely. That is why this year the House crafted a budget that adjusts for inflation and restores critical public services. The House prioritized education and public safety, while inflation-proofing the Permanent Fund and restoring funding to the university system. I am also pleased that the budget included increases in funding for Kodiak weirs and aerial salmon surveys that will provide additional fishing opportunities for our fishermen.
As the FY19 budget will be funded for the first time in Alaska’s history by a draw from the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve Account, the dividend amount must allow for a structured and sustainable draw from the ERA in order to assure continued value of the Permanent Fund. A compromise was reached in the House on this year’s PFD amount of $1,600, and we believe this amount will hold true in the Senate. As we know, $1,600 is an increase over last year of almost $500.
Operating budget public testimony
Now that the operating budget is on the Senate side, there is another opportunity to testify.
The Senate Finance Committee will open public testimony for Kodiak today from 10-10:30 a.m.
If you would like to testify, head over to the Kodiak LIO at 305 Center Ave., Suite 1.
House Fisheries Committee
This past Tuesday in House Fisheries, we introduced a new version of HB 199, the fish habitat permitting bill.
Yesterday, we introduced a slight revision to that version and went over the sectional analysis. We also heard confirmation hearings to the Board of Fisheries for Orville Huntington and Al Cain.
To view those meetings, you can type the following links into your web browser:
Tuesday, April 3rd hearing: http://bit.ly/2uG3osy
Thursday, April 5th hearing: http://bit.ly/2GxP0nx
Clearly, Alaska’s fish habitat permitting laws, or Title 16, need to be updated as they have remained unchanged for six decades, provide no opportunity for public notice or comment, and contain no guidance regarding what the proper protection of fish is.
As the State Representative for Kodiak, I know how critically important salmon are for our economy, culture, and dinner tables. Salmon are the greatest renewable resource in Alaska and I am proud to be the sponsor of HB 199.
The original version of the bill had unintended consequences on economic development that went well beyond the request by the Board of Fisheries that the Legislature update Title 16.
In response to those concerns, for months my office has been bringing all the stakeholders together in a collaborative and open process attempting to find the right balance between protecting a precious renewable resource that all Alaskans hold dear and still allowing responsible development to go forward. The draft that was introduced this week is the product of that process and I believe it has struck a good balance.
It is a much-needed improvement to Title 16 that focuses on public notice, public comment, the ability for the public to affect the process, solid criteria to ensure the proper protection of salmon, and providing the Department of Fish and Game with more enforcement tools. I am confident that this new version will be a workable product for industry, as well as a breath of fresh air for our biologists and fishermen.
To view the new version of HB 199, the explanation of changes, and the sectional analysis from Tuesday’s hearing, go to http://bit.ly/2GU7Fxn.
To view the newest version from yesterday, the explanation of changes, the sectional analysis, as well as the documents for the confirmation hearings, go to http://bit.ly/2GxP0nx.
We will be holding public testimony on the bill Saturday from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Testimony on this bill will take more than one segment and there will be another opportunity next week.
To testify in person, please head down to the Kodiak LIO.
If you cannot testify in person, 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.
Kodiak launch facility
I was excited to see an email in my inbox on Wednesday from Craig Campbell with the Alaska Aerospace Corporation.
Not only is the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska primed for a launch this week, but it looks as though we will be seeing as many as 20+ launches per year!
If you haven’t read the news, check out the Wednesday Daily Mirror. This is great for Kodiak, the complex and the corporation. The complex has been without state funding since 2014, so the ability to conduct more launches per year allows for more revenue opportunities, ultimately keeping jobs in Kodiak and Alaska!
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.
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.