Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Before I get into the legislative portion of this update, I want to express my most heartfelt sorrow and condolences to the friends and family of the skipper and crew of the Scandies Rose. Living in Kodiak, we all understand the risks associated with life on the water. That understanding, however, does nothing to make a tragedy like this more bearable. God bless the souls of all onboard, as well as the community as it heals.
On Dec. 11, Gov. Mike Dunleavy unveiled his FY21 proposed budget. As the legislature analyzes the proposal, I wanted to update you on exactly what is in it, the House’s plan, as well as my priorities for Kodiak this upcoming session and budget cycle.
The Governor’s budget essentially flat funds state services compared to last year. This came as a surprise to many when, as recently as four months ago, the Governor maintained his intention to seek an additional $600 million in cuts this session. I believe this is clear evidence that Alaskan’s voices, and perhaps the recall effort, are having an effect.
Let’s look at the specifics. The FY21 proposed budget sustains many cuts from last year, including the $44 million reduction to the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS), $3 million from the VPSO Program, $5.8 million from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, $25 million from University of Alaska (UA), $3.4 million from Ocean Ranger Program, $3 million from public broadcasting, and $6.1 million from behavioral health treatment and recovery grants.
New proposed reductions in the FY21 budget include $25 million from UA, $9.4 million from Pioneer Homes, $2.5 million from the Power Cost Equalization program, $1.5 million from rural energy assistance, $16.6 million from Palmer Correctional Center, $398,300 from the Suicide Prevention Council, $3 million from Emergency Medical Services grants, $5 million from Pre-K grants, $232,900 from Online with Libraries (OWL), and $400,000 from behavioral health treatment and recovery grants.
There are increases in the proposed budget as well. Those include $1.6 million for the Office of Public Advocacy, $1 million for Trial Courts, $17.8 million for Department of Corrections out-of-state contracts, $7.4 million restoration of adult public assistance, $27 million restoration of adult dental Medicaid services, and $9.1 million for Alaska State Trooper Detachments.
ADF&G SPECIFIC BUDGET CONCERNS
Although the ADF&G budget looks decent by-and-large, I do have concerns regarding several small reductions in our region. In the Westward (Kodiak) Region, there is a $20,000 reduction in weir time for the Frazer Lake weir. This reduction is concerning as it would result in less late-run fishing opportunities for the Kodiak fleet. I will certainly either look to add that funding back or find an alternative funding source to ensure that the weir remains fully operable during the season. In the Central (Cordova) Region there is a concerning elimination of $47,200 for pike suppression projects on the Susitna and Yentena River Drainages. These projects are part of the department’s effort to combat the invasive species Northern Pike, which are decimating sockeye populations on the Susitna drainage. This reduction is notable because Kodiak prosecutes a traditional intercept fishery off its coast on Susitna sockeye. I understand that ADF&G lost the grant funding for this project but is looking for alternative funding sources. I intend to work closely with the department through the budget process to see that these important projects are funded and continue.
Once the budget process is underway, I will have more detail and progress on these and other budget items. I will be sure to update you once I know more.
MY TAKE ON THE BUDGET
Given the Governor’s recent statements and attempt to cut $1 billion from the budget last year, some might think this year’s proposal doesn’t look so bad. However, from the perspective of Kodiak and other coastal communities, it has two glaring problems.
First and foremost, the proposed FY21 budget validates and maintains a $44 million cut to AMHS that left Kodiak, and many other communities, without winter service. As your representative, restoring ferry service is my highest priority. Second, it kicks the can down the road another year. It does this by offering no new revenue, drawing $1.5 billion from the Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR), and including a $3,100 PFD. Furthermore, the administration announced that it will seek an additional $1,400 for last year’s PFD through a supplemental request this year. In short, the Governor’s plan would virtually liquidate our only savings account (draws $1.5 billion of $1.9 billion fund) to pay PFDs while turning a blind eye to revenue-based solutions and the harmful cuts from last year.
Alaska has a revenue problem, plain and simple. After oil prices crashed, voters tasked the Legislature with reducing state spending. That is exactly what happened. Since 2014, the budget has been cut by almost 40%; meanwhile, no significant revenue measures have been passed. Last year, Alaskans loudly and clearly rejected Governor Dunleavy’s vision of state service levels. The sad truth is, however, that vision is what Alaska will look like without a comprehensive fiscal plan.
As such, my primary focuses this session will be restoring AMHS service, followed by pursuing oil tax reform, some form of a broad-based tax, and long-term changes to the PFD.
THE HOUSE’S PLAN
The Alaska House Majority Coalition’s goals are to pass a responsible budget over to the Senate, discuss new revenue and PFD reform/take what action we can on those, pass a responsible PFD, and be done with the people’s business in under 90-days.
I cannot guarantee that will be happen. What I can say for certain is that we know Alaskans are tired of the gridlock in Juneau, that we are too, and that we will do everything we can to conclude our business within 90-days.
That being said, the issues facing the state are enormous in scope and urgency. The decisions and debate this session will have a long-lasting impact on what type of a place Alaska ultimately becomes: E.g. do we support a statewide ferry system that provides year-round service?
My vow to you is that I will work to complete our business in 90-days while keeping a laser focus and attention on issues that simply must be corrected this year.
VETO OVERRIDE OF AMHS
On that note, the Legislature has 5-days from when we convene on Jan. 21 to override the Governor’s veto of the $5 million AMHS amendment. Honestly, I do not know if this will be successful, but I am putting in every effort to see that it is. As Chair, I am calling a hearing of the House Transportation Committee the day we gavel in session to push for and keep the focus on that veto override. I can’t get into too many details yet, but the hearing will involve a presentation from the Alaska Municipal League and testimony from mayors statewide. I will update you as soon as we have the details finalized.
LEGISLATIVE OPEN HOUSE
Senator Stevens and I will be co-hosting a Legislative Open House at the Kodiak Legislative Information Office (downtown, across from Subway) this Saturday, Jan. 11 from 10:30 a.m. to noon Coffee and refreshments will be provided. Remember, we work for you and this is a great opportunity for us to hear from you directly. Please come join us for a discussion about these and any other issues that are important to you and your family.