Legislative Update: Budget, transporation, fisheries issues in forefront

LEGISLATIVE UPDATE

By Rep. Louise Stutes

House District 32

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Greetings from Juneau!

I am honored to return as your representative and appreciate the faith you have placed in me. I am very optimistic that we will reach a fiscal solution for Alaska that is fair to you, my constituents.  Please contact me with any ideas, questions, or concerns. I would love to hear from you!

First and foremost on the minds of most Alaskans is solving the state’s budget deficit, which is expected to be over $3 billion. Governor Walker is proposing a fiscal plan this year dubbed “The New Sustainable Alaska Plan.”

The plan calls for a combination of:

  • Spending Reductions
  • Sustainable use of the Permanent Fund earnings
  • Modest tax increases
  • Oil and gas tax credit reform

For more details visit www.gov.alaska.gov. These decisions affect all of us and YOUR INPUT IS IMPORTANT; learn the facts and raise your voice. Please contact me with any questions, concerns, or comments at (907) 465-2487 or Rep.Louise.Stutes@akleg.gov.

The Governor’s plan is a jumping off point and similar to that of the Alaska House Majority Coalition, of which I am proud to be a member. This group of likeminded folks includes Republicans, Democrats, and Independents from all over Alaska who are united behind one cause: getting our state back on track!

The coalition’s plan will seek to be fair and not overly burden certain segments of Alaskans over others.

Personal Legislation:

House Bill 87 “Conflict of Interest: Board Fisheries/Game” — is a bill I sponsored that changes the way that the Board of Fisheries and the Board of Game function.  Currently, Board members are required to divulge a conflict of interest if they or their families have a financial interest in the subject being deliberated on. The conflicted member can then no longer offer their input and cannot vote on the matter at hand.

This bill allows the conflicted member to offer input, while still not allowing them to vote. Allowing members with expertise in particular fields to deliberate will help the Board make better informed decisions and lead to stronger fisheries management statewide.

House Bill 88 “Board of Fisheries Membership” — is a bill I introduced that would change the composition of the Board of Fisheries from seven to nine members.

The additional two members will benefit the Board by adding more diversity of interest, greater breadth of knowledge, and more points of view.

Committee News:

Healthy fisheries are vital to Kodiak, Cordova, and Yakutat and I am very pleased to return as chair of the Fisheries Committee. This is a great opportunity for our district because we can encourage fisheries policies that benefit our region. Please contact Reid Harris, my fisheries aide, at (907) 465-4087 for any ideas, questions, or concerns related to fisheries.

Marine and air transportation issues are particularly important to our coastal communities and I am also excited to be co-chair of the House Transportation Committee. Please Contact Matt Gruening, my transportation aide, at (907) 465-3271 for transportation related issues.

House Fisheries:

On Jan. 31st, House Fisheries heard House Bill 14 “Legislative Approval for Bristol Bay Sulfide Mine,” sponsored by Representative Andy Josephson, D-District 17.  This bill would require legislative approval for any large-scale metal sulfide mine in the Bristol Bay watershed. The Pebble Project is a contentious issue and the committee heard from a number of testifiers on both sides of the issue.  This bill was held in committee.

On Feb. 2nd, House Fisheries heard House Bill 56 “Commercial Fishing Loans,” Sponsored by Representative Dan Ortiz, I-District 36.  This bill increases the aggregate amount a borrower may hold unpaid from $300,000 to $400,000.  The committee spent an hour questioning the sponsor and the Department of Community and Economic Development’s Division of Investments then followed up with testimony from a number of fishermen who were in support of the bill.  Unfortunately the committee ran out of time and the bill was held.

Feb. 7, House Bill 88 “Board of Fisheries Membership.”

Feb. 9, House Bill 87 “Conflict of Interest: Board Fisheries/Game.”

House Transportation:

On Jan. 31, House Transportation heard House Bill 60 “Motor Fuel Tax; Transportation Maintenance Fund,” sponsored by the Rules Committee at the request of the governor. This bill would raise the tax rates on the four categories of fuel that are currently taxed under AS 43.40.010, which include motor fuel for ground transportation, aviation gasoline, jet fuel, and motor fuel used in watercrafts. It also would allow the legislature to use the proceeds from the taxes for maintaining water and harbor, airport, and highway infrastructure.

I am not thrilled about this bill, but it is part of the Governor’s comprehensive plan. If it makes it through the Transportation Committee, I want to be sure that proceeds from marine fuel taxes go back into our harbors and port facilities so that commercial fishermen and recreational users see a direct benefit as a result of increased taxes.

If you would like to add your testimony to this bill, please submit it to my Transportation Committee Aide, Matt Gruening, at matthew.gruening@akleg.gov.

The bill was introduced and held.

Feb. 7, House Bill 60 “Motor Fuel Tax; Transportation Maintenance Fund”

Feb. 9, House Bill 60 ““Motor Fuel Tax; Transportation Maintenance Fund”

Thank you for listening and please reach out to me with any of your thoughts and ideas at (907) 465-6856 or Rep.Louise.Stutes@akleg.gov. I would love to hear from you! https://www.facebook.com/RepLouiseStutes/