Season’s greetings! With only a few weeks remaining in what has been a very active interim, returning and incoming legislators alike are turning their attentions to what will surly a be a busy 2017 session. The 90-day session starts with floor sessions on Tuesday, Jan. 17, and committee work soon to follow.
FY 2018 Budget
The state budget will, of course, drive most of the debate this year. On Dec. 15 we got our first look at the governor’s proposed $4.2 billion fiscal year 2018 operating budget. Components of the governor’s plan include:
• Nearly all state workers will be required to take at least two unpaid days off (furlough days) and contribute more toward health care coverage. Automatic cost-of-living increases have been eliminated in all contracts negotiated to date.
• Gov. Walker is proposing legislation to freeze remaining step increases for non-unionized employees, effective July 1, 2018. The bill is expected to reduce state spending by $10 million over two years.
• Starting July 1, 2017, Gov. Walker will take a one-third salary reduction, about $48,000 less than the $145,000 set in statute.
The governor has also reintroduced the Permanent Fund Protection Act, which sets up a formula for sustainable draws from the Permanent Fund’s Earnings Reserve Account to help bridge the budget gap. The governor says the proposed law will ensure a dividend of at least $1,000 next year, and about the same amount in the future.
One the revenue side, the governor is again proposing a motor fuel tax to raise the current rate from 8 cents per gallon to 16 cents per gallon. If passed, it would be the first significant statewide increase in the fuel tax since 1970. The revenue generated is intended to cover transportation costs, like road maintenance and snow removal.
The governor’s budget still leaves an $890 million gap between spending and revenue, which sets the stage for further discussion on cuts, and new discussions on taxes and revenue generating measures. During session, I think you will see hearings on reforming the state’s oil tax credit program, reestablishing an income tax, increasing corporate taxes, and establishing an S Corporation tax.
These are serious matters that must be carefully considered and the public must have an opportunity to provide input. With limited savings there is no more time to waste. The Legislature realizes that, and I hope we will address all of these issue this session.
I appreciate your thoughts on the budget and the other matters coming up in Juneau. Please keep in touch.
The 30th Alaska State Legislature
While 2017 will mark my 15th year in the Senate and 17th overall in state office, it will be the first session for 15 new members, including three in the Senate and 12 in the House. I look forward to working with these new lawmakers and hearing their perspectives on the issues.
I am pleased to again have the opportunity to work on your behalf with District P’s two House members, District 31 Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, and District 32 Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak. Both legislators will be part of the incoming House majority leadership team, and I know they will serve their districts well.
This term I will chair the LegislativeBudgetandAuditCommittee, composed of 10 members (five from each body) and two alternates (one from each body). ThecommitteehastheresponsibilityforprovidingtheLegislaturewithfiscalanalysis,budgetreviews,auditsandperformancereviewsofstategovernmentagencies,andforapprovingrequestsfromthegovernorfor budget revisions.
I will also chair the World Trade Committee this term. I anticipate appointments to additional standing committees and budget subcommittees in the coming days.
Boards and commissions
I hope you will consider lending your time and expertise to your fellow Alaskans by serving on one of the state’s boards and commissions. You can find out more about these panels online at gov.alaska.gov/services/boards-and-commissions. You can call the Office of Boards and Commissions at 907-269-7450, and email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PFD filing period
The 2017 Alaska Permanent Fund application opens Sunday, Jan. 1, at 9 a.m. and closes Friday, March 31. Again this year, the Permanent Fund Division is encouraging you to apply online at pfd.alaska.gov, which I have found to be a quick and easy process.
If you plan to file online, don’t forget to make a printed copy of your application for your records. If you file an application by mail, I urge you to send it by certified mail with a return receipt so you can ensure its arrival at the PFD offices. Above all else, double-check your application to make sure that all questions are answered accurately, and please do not miss the March 31 filing deadline, as applications not received or postmarked by that date will be denied as late.
For more information on the application process or eligibility questions, please contact the Permanent Fund Division at 907-269-0370.
LIO here to help
Senate District P is served by Legislative Information Offices in Cordova, Homer, Kenai and Kodiak. These office can help you follow bills through the legislative process, participate in teleconferences, offer testimony on legislation and contact yours and other lawmakers.
The Cordova LIO can be reached at 424-5461 and email at LIO.Cordova@akleg.gov.
The Homer LIO can be reached at 235-7878 and email at LIO.Homer@akleg.gov.
The Kenai LIO can be reached at 283-2030 and email at LIO.Kenai@akleg.gov.
The Homer LIO can be reached at 486-8116 and email at LIO.Kodiak@akleg.gov.
As myself and my staff transitions to Juneau, my Kodiak office will be closing Wednesday, Jan. 11, and will reopen after the session. My Capitol office is open throughout the year.
Please give us all a call if you need assist you with any issues involving state government. The number in Kodiak is 486-4925. Contact us toll-free in Juneau at 1-800-821-4925. You can email me at: email@example.com.
Thank you to Senate District P’s media for giving me the opportunity to share this information through the Interim Report. My session column, the Capitol Report will resume in late January.
On behalf of myself, my wife, Rita, family, staff, I wish you a very happy and prosperous new year.