Hello from the capitol. About a month and a half remains in the legislative session and many busy days are ahead as we work toward our scheduled adjournment on April 15. This session, the Senate has devoted a lot of discussion to oil taxes, but a great deal more is happening in Juneau right now, with work continuing on the multitude of issues affecting Alaska, including the fiscal year 2013 budget, education and the teachers and public employees’ retirement systems.
FY 2013 budget
Over the past few weeks, the Senate Finance Committee’s budget subcommittees have been meeting with department commissioners and their staffs to review the governor’s proposed budget. Our recommendations will be forwarded to the Finance Committee for consideration. Traditionally, the House transmits the operating budget to the Senate, while the Senate takes up the capital budget first. Public testimony on the budgets will be taken in both legislative bodies; those dates have yet to be announced.
I have received numerous messages from constituents in support of increasing state funding for schools. On Feb. 10, the Senate passed SB171, calling for incremental increases to the base student allocation over the next three years. The bill is now in the House Finance Committee, awaiting a hearing. The Senate Education Committee has advanced SB182, which would increase state funding for pupil transportation. SB182 will be heard next by the Senate Finance Committee.
Another topic generating a lot of discussion in the capitol is the estimated $11.1 billion unfunded liability in the public employees and teacher’s retirement systems. The Senate majority is considering using $2 billion to $4 billion from surplus revenue to reduce this liability, which could save the state substantially in unfunded liability.
Keep in touch
Thank you to all who have taken the time to contact me on the critical matters impacting our state. I appreciate your taking the time to let me know your thoughts.
Keeping track of the Senate
A great way to follow what’s going on in the capitol is through the Senate Bipartisan Working Group’s website at www.aksenate.org. The site offers a wealth of useful information, including the current status of our bills and news articles from our members.
Get to know your LIO
The Legislative Information Office in your community is a valuable resource for helping you follow bills and resolutions, contact lawmakers, offer testimony to the various Senate and House committees and more.
In Seward, the LIO can be reached at 224-5066. The Homer LIO’s number is 235-7878. Kodiak’s LIO can be reached at 486-8116.
Ombudsman’s office can help
No matter where you live in Alaska, you can contact an office that investigates complaints against state government agencies and employees. The Alaska Legislature created the Office of the Ombudsman to make sure that government follows the rules and treats all citizens fairly and reasonably.
The ombudsman is a non-partisan, neutral fact-finder and takes no sides in a dispute. If the ombudsman finds a problem, they will confront the agency and recommend a solution.
To reach the ombudsman by phone, dial 1-800-478-2624 toll-free anywhere in Alaska. You can also contact the office through its website at www.state.ak.us/ombud, by writing to PO Box 102636, Anchorage, AK 99510-2636, or fax at (907) 269-5291.
PFD application deadline nearing
Time is running out for you to apply for the 2012 Alaska Permanent Fund dividend. If you have not already done so, please get your application in by Saturday, March 31. Applications postmarked or delivered to PFD offices after that date will be denied as late applications, making it impossible for you to receive the dividend.
You can find out more information on the PFD program and apply for a dividend online at www.pfd.state.ak.us. If you are sending your application via U.S. mail, I urge you to send it by certified mail and ask for a return receipt to ensure that it has been delivered.
Among the local visitors to the capitol this week were Homer’s Dave Branding and Susan Drathman; and Kodiak’s Will Anderson, Margie Bezona, Duncan Fields, Mary Forbes, Luke Fulp, Tammy Hanson and Betty McTavish. Please stop by my office if your travels include a stop in Juneau during the session.