Hello again. The Legislature is currently in interim status following adjournment from our second special session on Monday, June 28, when the House of Representatives joined the Senate in approving the effective date for the fiscal year 2022 budget. With the governor signing the budget on Wednesday, June 30, we were able to avoid a threatened government shutdown, which would have had ripple effects on state services throughout Alaska, the economy and, most importantly, our citizens.
As you may know, the Legislature did not reach the three-quarter vote that is necessary to draw money from the Constitutional Budget Reserve to balance the budget. One result of this was the Permanent Fund dividend (PFD) being set at $525. The PFD was subsequently vetoed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy when he finalized the budget.
Additionally, several programs were left unfunded, including Power Cost Equalization. The program helps lower the cost of electricity for thousands of rural residents, including numerous Senate District P constituents.
The state college scholarship program is also currently unfunded. This program helps over 5,400 students defray the costs of higher education. The vast majority of these students are enrolled in Alaska colleges and universities.
Also currently left without funding is the WWAMI program, which is a collaborative medical school among universities in Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho, and the University of Washington School of Medicine. The WWAMI program helps cover tuition costs for 80 medical students. Many past WWAMI graduates are currently practicing medicine in Alaska, including at health care facilities in our local communities.
I can assure you most legislators are unsatisfied with the current funding situation for all of these important programs and the PFD. It is expected we will continue negotiations among the majorities and minorities in both legislative bodies to resolve these issues. Our next opportunity will be during the third special session, which begins Monday, August 2, in Juneau. During the special session, legislators will also be discussing the state’s fiscal future, including new revenue sources and spending limits. With elections on the horizon next year, the upcoming special session may be the best opportunity to have sincere conversations on the role of Alaska’s government with current lawmakers.
More details on the special session agenda will be available in the coming weeks. I look forward to sharing details with you as they become available. As always, I welcome your thoughts.
FISCAL POLICY WORKING GROUP
As part of the final budget negotiations, an eight-member panel has been appointed to work on development of a long-term solution for the state’s fiscal challenges, including the future of the PFD. Two members from each of the Senate and House majorities and minorites are on the group. They began meeting on Wednesday, July 7, in Anchorage and plan to meet regularly in the weeks ahead.
The group consists of the following members:
•Senator Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel (Senate Majority)
•Senator Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer (Senate Majority)
•Senator Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks (Senate Minority)
•Senator Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau (Senate Minority)
•Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka (House Majority)
•Representative Calvin Schrage, I-Anchorage (House Majority)
•Representative Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski (House Minority)
•Representative Kevin McCabe, R-Mat-Su Valley (House Minority)
•Senator Mike Shower, R-Mat-Su Valley (Senate Majority)
•Senator Elvi Gray-Jackson, D-Anchorage (Senate Minority)
•Representative Grier Hopkins, D-Fairbanks (House Majority)
•Representative Mike Prax, R-North Pole (House Minority)
SENATE BILL 19 SIGNED INTO LAW
The governor signed SB 19 into law on Tuesday, June 29, in Anchorage. The newly enacted law extends the sunset date for the Special Education Service Agency (SESA) until June 2029.
SESA is an agency giving extra help to schools around the state that have students with severe disabilities. They bring additional resources to schools, students and parents to have equal educational opportunities. SESA underwent a legislative audit process in 2020 and was found to continue to be serving an important public service.
After several hearings in the legislative process, where we also examined SESA’s programs, I was able to not only help showcase SESA’s accomplishments, but also to secure additional funding for the agency to make sure their mission is fulfilled successfully over the course of the next eight to nine years. Without this funding, and given the increasing caseload of SESA operations, they would likely not have been able to continue working for these students.
As you may recall, other bills I am sponsoring are working through various Senate and House committees. They remain eligible for consideration in the 2022 session.
STATE BOARDS AND
Congratulations to Kodiak’s Jana Turvey on her reappointment to the Alaska Aerospace Corporation Board of Directors. Jana’s term will run until July 1, 2025.
Many District P residents serve on state boards and commissions. You can find out more about these organizations and the application process online at: https://gov.alaska.gov/services/boards-and-commissions.
GETTING AROUND THE DISTRICT
Like many others, the COVID-19 pandemic curtailed my plans for personal visits throughout Senate District P in 2020, and kept the Capitol building closed to the general public during session. With virus infection rates dropping and travel restrictions easing, I look forward to more in-person meetings around our district this interim.
I am honored to represent the Senate on the Statewide Suicide Prevention Council, which advises the governor and the Legislature on issues related to suicide. The council was established by the Legislature 20 years ago in response to an epidemic of suicide. In conjunction with communities, faith-based organizations, and public-private entities, the council is working to improve the health and wellness of Alaskans by reducing suicide and its effect on individuals and communities.
My staff is available to help you with matters involving state agencies throughout the year.
You can reach the Capitol office in Juneau at 907-465-4925 or toll free at 800-821-4925.
My Homer office can be reached at 907-235-0690.
You can contact the Kodiak office at 907-486-4925.
You can also email me at Sen.Gary.Stevens@akleg.gov.
My interim address is:
Senator Gary Stevens
305 Center Ave, STE 1
Kodiak, AK 99615
(Please note that we are not able to intervene in court matters)
HELP WITH THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
Should you need help with federal government matters, I encourage you to contact the members of Alaska’s Congressional Delegation.
Rep. Don Young’s Anchorage office can be reached at (866) 990-5979.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s Anchorage office can be reached at (877) 829-6030.
Sen. Dan Sullivan’s Anchorage Office can be reached at (907) 271-5915.
Thank you to Senate District P’s media for sharing this information, and to you for reading the column. Please keep in touch.