Capitol Report: Working to bridge the $3 billion budget gap

By Senator Gary Stevens

For The Cordova Times

Hello again from Juneau. The first session of the 30th Alaska State Legislature is well-underway. Much debate remains before adjournment, which is scheduled for April 16, but could go longer as we work out how to bridge the $3 billion budget gap. As you probably know, key differences exist between the two legislative bodies on solving the budget problem for this and future years, and finding a workable solution will take time, effort and compromise.

The Senate’s Fiscal Plan

The Senate Majority leadership, through the Senate Finance Committee, has introduced its approach to a fiscal plan through Senate Bill 70. The bill sets a limit on state spending and allows for an annual draw from the Permanent Fund’s earnings to help fund government programs and services. It also guarantees a $1,000 Permanent Fund Dividend over the next three years, with future dividends based on a percentage of fund earnings. SB 70 also includes language calling for a return of excess monies to the Permanent Fund.

The House’s Fiscal Plan

The House Finance Committee has already begun hearings on its body’s fiscal plan, House Bill 115. The legislation combines an annual 4.75 percent draw from the earnings of the Permanent Fund — with one third of the draw going to PFDs — and a progressive income tax of 15 percent of your federal income tax or $25, whichever is greater. HB 115 also calls for capital gains to be taxed at 10 percent. Additionally, the bill provides an option for using PFD income to pay the state income tax.

Both bills will receive extensive debate this session. Your thoughts and comments on these proposals are appreciated.

Personal Legislation Update

On Feb. 23, the Senate Community and Regional Affairs voted to move SB 7 from the committee. The bill establishes a matching grant program within the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development for museum construction, expansion and major renovation projects, and repatriation of Alaska Native artifacts. Under terms of the bill, CCED would not do any work on these projects until it receives a legislative appropriation. SB 15 has a further referral to the Senate Finance Committee.

The Senate Labor and Commerce held its first hearing on SB 15 on Valentine’s Day. The idea behind the bill is to ban sales of electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, and similar products to minors. We are working on some language changes to SB 15 and expect it back before the committee soon.

I hope for a Senate State Affairs Committee hearing soon on SB 8. This bill is intended to give Alaska’s federally recognized tribal governments the ability to be part of the PFD Division’s popular Pick.Click.Give. program should they choose.

PFD Application Continues

This year’s PFD application period continues through Friday, March 31st. The easiest way to apply is through the PFD Division’s website at www.pfd.alaska.gov. If you are planning on mailing in your application, please send it by certified mail and request a return receipt to ensure your application’s receipt.

Legislative Information Offices Serve You

The Legislative Information Office near you is a great source for following bills, participating in teleconferences, offering testimony on legislation and contacting lawmakers throughout the session. You can also pick up a PFD application at the LIO.

  • The Cordova LIO can be reached at (907) 424-5461.
  • The Homer LIO can be reached at (907) 235-7878.
  • The Kenai LIO can be reached at (907) 283-2030.
  • The Kodiak LIO can be reached at (907) 486-8116.

Capitol Visitors

If your travel plans include Juneau this winter, please make it a point to stop by my office for a visit. Recent District P residents stopping by the Capital include school board members and school administration officials, numerous city and borough leaders and commercial fisheries advocates.

Please Keep in Touch

I appreciate hearing from you on the many issues coming before the legislature.

You can E-mail me at: sen.gary.stevens@akleg.gov.

Reach me by phone at 1-800-821-4925 and in Juneau at 465-4925. My fax number is 465-3517.

My mailing address is: Senator Gary Stevens, Alaska State Legislature, 120 4th Street, State Capitol, Room 3, Juneau, AK 99801

Thanks for reading this edition of the Capitol Report. I look forward to giving you another update again in a few weeks.