Legislative Update: Operating budget inches closer to House floor

Transitioning to a public corporation would protect AMHS from political gamesmanship

Greetings from Juneau,

Things are picking up down here as finance subcommittees begin their closeouts and the operating budget inches closer to the House floor. Last week, finance subcommittees took up amendments, during which time I was able to insert important language for our Marine Highway System which I detail below.

Marine Transportation

On Feb. 15, the House Transportation Committee heard a presentation from members of the Alaska Marine Highway Reform Initiative Steering Committee, and Southeast Conference on the possible transition of the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) to a public corporation. The meeting highlighted the issues that continue to face AMHS, including the lack of stable funding.

Funding has always been an issue with AMHS, but the need for stable funding is even more obvious this year. Transitioning to a public corporation would protect AMHS from the political gamesmanship it has been subject to in recent years during the budgeting process, the result of which has hindered cost recovery and strong ridership due to the inability for AMHS to set dependable sailing schedules.

I encourage you to watch the meeting by typing the following link into your web browser: goo.gl/72aekZ

It truly was a valuable conversation on the importance of our marine highway system.

Earlier that same day, in the Department of Transportation Finance Subcommittee, I added language to the subcommittee report which encourages the Legislature to capitalize the Alaska Marine Highway Fund at the level needed for AMHS to provide predictability and stability in their service levels.

I have said it before and I will say it again: it is imperative that our Alaska Marine Highway System be allowed to continue to provide vital access to the countless communities which rely on it. 

Pink Salmon Disaster Relief

I have some good news to report that I’m sure most of you are already aware of. Early in the morning on Feb. 9, Congress passed a spending bill that included $200 million for various fisheries disasters. Among those included are the 2016 Gulf of Alaska pink salmon fisheries.

At my initial request in the fall of 2016, Governor Walker petitioned the U.S. Department of Commerce to declare a fisheries disaster for pink salmon runs across the Gulf of Alaska. In January of 2017, former U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker accepted the state’s request and officially declared those fisheries a disaster. This provided the initial framework to receive funding. Since that time, myself, other coastal legislators, and the state of Alaska have been meeting with and writing letters to our Congressional Delegation to ensure that funding was put into a supplemental bill.

Although it took longer than any of us would have liked and the funding will be spread thin across multiple fisheries disasters, I am reserving judgment until it is determined what proportion of that funding Alaska will receive. This is what I know so far: $200 million for fisheries disaster relief will be distributed to NOAA. We are speaking with the governor’s office daily to determine how much of that funding Alaska will receive, what the process will be for fishermen to access those funds, and when we can expect distribution. I will send an update as soon as I know more. 

Fisheries Committee

The week of Feb.  5, the House Fisheries Committee heard presentations on the permitting process that occurs in fish habitat from the Department of Fish and Game, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Environmental Conservation. You can watch the meetings by typing the following links into your web browser:

Presentation on the permitting process
-Department of Fish and Game:
goo.gl/LkTyzW

Presentation on the permitting process
-Department of Fish and Game
-Department of Transportation
-Department of Environmental Conservation:
goo.gl/7vGt6x

On Feb. 13, the House Fisheries Committee heard and held HB 272-Tangle Lakes State Game Refuge, sponsored by Representative Josephson and HB 149-Boards of Fisheries and Game meetings, sponsored by Rep. Mike Chenault. You can watch the hearing of those two bills by typing the following link into your web browser:
goo.gl/cpjTj2

HB 272 would establish a game refuge on approximately 156,000 acres of state land in the Tangle Lakes region, north of the Denali Highway and west of the Richardson Highway. To learn more about this bill, you can view the documents by typing the following link into your web browser:
goo.gl/wq14RK

HB 149 would change the three-year meeting cycle to five years and adds Kenai to the Southcentral region as a location to hold Board of Fisheries meetings. To learn more about this bill, you can view the documents by typing the following link into your web browser:
goo.gl/rHpLKe

On Feb. 15, the committee heard a presentation by the Department of Natural Resources on its permitting process, which can be viewed by typing the following link into your web browser: goo.gl/5DNfYd

Education Bill

Two weeks back, the House passed HB 287 which seeks to early-fund education. After years of delayed budget action in the Legislature, pink-slips have become an annual source of dread for our teachers, who are choosing more and more often to leave the state in search of stability. HB 287 takes education out of the line of fire and allows school districts to budget without worrying whether the Legislature will pass the operating budget on time. Stability in education funding results in a stable learning environment for our youth. The bill is now in the Senate, where the funding source of this Legislation will be considered.

As always, please contact me and tell me how you feel. Whether your thoughts are on the budget, new revenue, fisheries or transportation issues, or something that is important to you and your family, I’m here for you and will always endeavor to work on your behalf.

Sincerely,

Louise Stutes

State House Representative for District 32

Proudly Serving Kodiak, Cordova, Yakutat, and Seldovia

Rep.Louise.Stutes@akleg.gov

(907) 465-2487

facebook.com/RepLouiseStutes
twitter.com/RepLouiseStutes

 

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