Capitol Report: Budget commands bulk of Legislature’s attention

Lawmakers working to find a path to a sustainable budget in the future

By Senator Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak

For The Cordova Times

Hello from the Capitol. As you may know, the fiscal year 2018 budget is commanding the bulk of the Legislature’s attention right now. On Thursday, April 6th, the Senate passed its version of the budget (House Bill 57). Our budget calls for $4.1 billion in general fund spending. That figure is a cut of $276 million from the current fiscal year. The budget includes 5 percent reductions in spending on the state’s four most significant cost-drivers, including the departments of Health & Social Services, Education and Early Development, Transportation and Public Facilities, and the University of Alaska.

Differences between the Senate and House versions of the budget will be worked out by a conference committee consisting of three members of each body. At this point, it is highly likely we will either extend the session beyond the scheduled adjournment date of Sunday, April 16th, or enter into a special session with a limited agenda on the budget and other bills that must be passed this year.

We are also awaiting House action on Senate Bill 26. The bill contains some of the Senate’s components of a long-term fiscal plan. It protects the Permanent Fund by establishing a sustainable percent of market value draw to help pay for essential services, and guarantees a $1,000 dividend for the next three years. After that, the dividend will be based on a percentage of fund earnings, allowing for modest dividend growth.

If oil revenue increases in the future, the bill provides a mechanism to return excess funds to the Permanent Fund, growing the corpus of the fund and future dividends.

SB 26 is scheduled for hearings in the House Finance Committee this week.

Legislative Overtime 

We all recognize the public’s frustration with legislative discord on the budget, and the prospect of lawmakers needing extra time again this year to finish our work. Please be assured that while it may take some extra time to finalize the budget, we are all committed to working through this process and finding a path to a sustainable budget in the future.

The 24-Hour Rule

Once the budget conference committee is appointed, the work of legislative committees falls under the 24-Hour Rule. This means bills and resolutions may receive a committee hearing with 24 hours’ notice, and legislation can move quickly to a floor vote.

You can get more information on the status of legislation through the Legislative Information Office near you.

  • 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.

The Survey Says

The results are in for our most recent, non-scientific online survey on non-budgetary bills currently working their way through the Legislature.

Question 1: asked about House Bill 175, which proses changing the way Americans elect presidents from the current Electoral College system to a popular vote. 63% of respondents favored changing the system, with 28 percent opposed, and the rest needing more information before forming opinion.

Question 2: asked about reversing the current ban on Alaska’s participation in the Federal REAL ID Act through Senate Bill 34. 76 percent of respondents support compliance with REAL ID, 9 percent were opposed, with the remainder needing additional information before forming an opinion.

Question 3: asked about HB 44, which would require a legislator with a substantial conflict of interest in the subject of a bill to abstain from taking action without a vote of the legislative body. Seventy-nine percent of the respondents agreed with this concept, while 3 percent disagreed, and the remainder needing more information before forming an opinion.

Thanks to all who took the time to take part in the informal survey. It is good to know how you feel about these subjects.

AARP Workshop in Kodiak 

AARP Alaska will be holding free workshops in Kodiak later this month at the Kodiak Inn. On Friday, April 21st from 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm, and again on Saturday, April 22nd from 9:30 am – 11:00 am, the workshop will focus on Medicare. From 11:00 am – 5:00 pm on the 22nd, the focus is on retirement.

You can get more information from Daryl Royce at AARP Alaska at 1-866-227-7447 or via email at droyce@aarp.org. You can register online at aarp.cvent.com/Kodiak2017.

Tracking the Legislature 

You can follow the Senate during the remainder of the session online at: www.alaskasenate.org. The site provides a wealth of information on the Senate Majority and our membership.

Alaska’s public television system produces Gavel Alaska, which broadcasts live and recorded coverage of floor sessions and committee meetings. The programming is also on the Internet at: http://www.360north.org.

AlaskaLegislature.tv will offers live coverage of committee meetings and bill hearings. The service is provided by the legislature.

You can also access information on any bills and resolutions introduced during the 30th Alaska Legislature through the Bill Action and Status Inquiry System (BASIS) on the Internet at: www.akleg.gov/basis/Home/BillsandLaws.

Contact Information

My Capitol building office can be reached toll free throughout the year at 1-800-821-4925. The fax number is 465-3517.

My Kodiak office will reopen in the coming weeks and will be staffed throughout the interim. You can reach us there at 486-4925. The fax number is: 486-5264.

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

Thanks again to Senate District P’s media for helping me keep you informed on the Legislature’s work this year, and to you for reading this edition of the Capitol Report.