Senate, House remain divided on operating budget

Conference committee is working through differences on funding state agencies

Rep. Louise Stutes speaks during the crab dinner at the Reluctant Fisherman on Saturday, March 24, 2018.

Greetings from Juneau,

I want to give you a quick update on where we stand as things start wrapping up in Juneau. We are quickly approaching the finish line here in the Legislature, and both the House and Senate appear hopeful for adjournment very soon. In the last two weeks, the Senate and Governor have agreed upon the increased $1600 PFD the House put in the operating budget, so you can plan on that amount in October. In the meantime, the Senate passed their version of the operating budget on Thursday of last week, which means conference committee is working through the budget items the House and Senate have disagreement on.

Here are a few of those differences in the Senate version of the operating budget:

Administration

  • Public Advocacy – Senate added 5 of the 10 (9 Public Guardians and 1 Guardian ad Litem) positions requested by the Governor, House added those 10 for $1 million and 4 more Guardians ad Litem $465,000

Education

  • New Science Standards – Senate funded at $50,000, House fully funded at $100,000
  • Early Learning – Senate added $600,000 as a one-time allocation, House added full $1.2 million

Fish & Game

  • Commercial Fisheries – Senate changed the fund source of several projects from $997,000 Unrestricted General Funds (UGF) to the available excess balance of the commercial charter revolving loan fund
  • Wildlife Conservation – Senate did not add 2 positions for wildlife access program, House added the positions to help use unmatched Pittman-Robertson federal funds at risk of reverting back to the federal agency

Health & Social Services

  • Medicaid – Senate cut $275 million ($70 million UGF; $5.2 million Designated General Fund (DGF); & $204 million Fed) or 12%, House funded the FY19 projected need
  • Senate added 4 positions ($231,200 UGF and $231,300 Fed) to increase Tribal claiming efforts along with intent language to result in Medicaid reduction of $35 million UGF
  • Senate added Medicaid intent to save $40 million UGF by managing Medicaid utilization to index with the national average per enrollee cost, after accounting for the higher cost of health care in Alaska
  • Hospital Based Mental Health Care – Senate did not fund 3-year program using one-time funds to support hospital based mental health care that would match an equal $10.5 million of federal funds
  • ATAP – Senate did not add $3 million of an excess loan fund balance to help meet the federal maintenance of effort requirement in Alaska Temporary Assistance Program to avoid federal penalties
  • Children’s Services Safety Officer – Senate did not fund, House funded at $111,000 UGF and $47,600 Fed
  • Contractual Security – Senate did not fund guards for Front Line Social Workers’ offices in Kenai and Fairbanks, House funded at $129,000 UGF and $72,000 Fed
  • Public Assistance – Senate did not add 41 positions to address eligibility determination backlog, House funded at $2.214 million UGF and $2.214 million Federal

Law

  • Additional prosecutors in Anchorage, Bethel, Kotzebue, and statewide drug enforcement were funded at 50% or $581,800 in Senate version, House funded at 100%
  • Senate did not fully fund prosecutor that had been partially funded in FY18

Military & Veterans Affairs

  • Senate did not fund $210,900 UGF expansion of the Alaska State Defense Force
  • Senate did not fund new special assistant ($161,400 UGF) to serve as U.S. Dept. of Defense liaison
  • Senate did not fund maintenance costs ($221,000 UGF and $663,000 Fed) associated with the C-17 aircraft acquisition
  • Senate did not fund an additional contract Veteran Services Officer $100,000 UGF

Public Safety

  • Senate denied all the Governor’s public safety action plan items in the department for $3.6 million, House funded at $2.3 million. House version included the following funding:
  • $1.2 million of $2 million to improve law enforcement access to rural communities, though transferred $585,000 to Village Public Safety Officer program to increase VPSO travel in rural Alaska
  • Criminal investigators in Bethel and Anchorage for Domestic Violence Sexual Assault investigations $570,600 UGF
  • Two pilot positions to support law enforcement in rural Alaska $335,000 UGF
  • Statewide emergency communications feasibility study $150,000 UGF
  • 6 criminal justice positions in the records/classification unit $595,000 UGF
  • Senate did not fund $200,000 GF Building Inspection and Rural Firefighter Training

Transportation

  • Senate did not fund operations of the Adak airport in the operating budget $690.000 UGF and $52,000 Fed
  • Senate did not fully fund Marine Highway System’s projected fuel needs $369,800

University of Alaska

  • Senate added $5.5 million, House added $19 million

Shared Taxes

  • Instead of distributing 60% of aviation fuel taxes collected locally per statute, Senate distributes 100%, an increase of $82,900 that would be distributed to 8 communities: Anchorage, Juneau, Ketchikan Gateway Borough, Kenai, Kodiak, Palmer, Soldotna and Wasilla

Disaster Relief Fund

  • Senate did not add $6.2 million of various fund balances identified by Governor to better position the state to respond to disasters

Permanent Fund

  • Senate did not include FY19 inflation-proofing of $942 million
  • Senate deposit: entire 5.25% ERA draw goes to GF, with subsequent transfer from GF to the PFD Fund, while the House splits the 5.25% ERA draw directly to GF and to PFD Fund. [Senate version means legislature will make a separate appropriation decision on what to pay as PFD]

House Rules Committee

As many of you are aware, SB63, the widely supported workplace smoking bill by Senator Micciche, has been held up in the House Rules Committee for over 3 months. In that time, the outcry of support and calls by the public to schedule the bill for a vote on the House Floor have only increased. I receive weekly calls and emails from District 32 urging a floor vote for SB63, and I am happy to report that on Tuesday the 10th, the chair of the House Rules Committee scheduled a hearing to introduce a committee substitute (CS) version of the bill. The new CS has provisions giving municipalities the option to opt-out of the smoke-free requirements via local elections, however e-cigarettes are exempt. As I write this on Monday the 16th, I anticipate SB63 will be scheduled for a full House vote within the next few days.

To view the CS for SB63, type the following link in your web browser:
http://bit.ly/2HtSpoE

House Fisheries

HB 199

On Saturday and Monday, the 8th and 9th of April, the Special Committee on Fisheries heard public testimony on HB 199, the fish habitat permitting bill. First off, I want to thank everyone from the district who testified on the bill. I was very pleased at the response we had from residents across the state. Out of the 111 people who testified, only 12 were opposed!

What we heard was overwhelming support for updating Title 16 so that Alaska can maintain healthy salmon fisheries into the future as urbanization and development continue to increase. There is a lot of work still needed to make sure we get the right protections in place that still allow responsible development to move forward. Given where we are in session, it is unlikely that the bill will make it through the process this year. Title 16 has not been updated since statehood and this work is so important that I don’t want to rush it through. If it does not pass this year, we will continue to make it a better product over the interim and will hit the ground running next year to get it into law. I will provide a detailed update of HB 199 and the work we have done on it soon. 

Pike Presentation

Last Thursday, the 12th, the committee heard a presentation by ADF&G on pike as an invasive species and the resulting predation on salmon smolt. I requested that ADF&G compile this presentation to shed light on the issue of this invasive species and the effect it is having on all salmon species in Southcentral Alaska. In order to protect fishing opportunities for our commercial fishermen, more needs to be done to address the pike problem. Unfortunately, the discussion after the presentation had to be cut short due to Floor Session.  I plan on having more meetings on this topic and will work with the department to secure any additional resources they need to put more effort into eradicating and suppressing pike in the Susitna and other drainages.

To watch the presentation, type the following link into your web browser: http://bit.ly/2IM23mg
To look at the meeting documents, type the following link into your web browser: http://bit.ly/2IP05kQ

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.

Warm regards,

— Louise Stutes

State House Representative for District 32
Serving Kodiak, Cordova, Yakutat, and Seldovia
Rep.Louise.Stutes@akleg.gov
(907) 465-3271
https://www.facebook.com/RepLouiseStutes