Legislative Update: Finance committees are now in full swing

House is using FY20 adjusted base as starting point for state budget

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

I know that the budget is on everyone’s minds, myself included.  Now that finance subcommittees are in full swing and work on the budget is underway, I wanted to provide you with a brief update.

Status of the Budget and the Marine Highway

The list of concerns with Governor Dunleavy’s proposed budget is lengthy and well founded. Topping that list for Cordova is the elimination of ferry service by October. This is completely unacceptable to me on both a professional level as your representative and a personal level as a resident of this district.

Typically, the Legislature uses the governor’s proposal as the framework with which to construct its budget.  However, this year is anything but typical and the House is instead using the FY20 adjusted base as the starting point to build our budget. As the proposed budget was a non-starter for most, I am pleased that we are not starting with it!

The FY20 adjusted base just means “the current year’s budget, excluding one-time items.” Why that is important is the FY20 adjusted base contains full funding for the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS).

Make no mistake, there will be some cuts, but I am much more comfortable with this year’s budget as the starting point when having that discussion. To that end, chairing the House Transportation Committee puts me in an excellent position to negotiate any changes to the policy or budget of AMHS.  I understand how critical the ferries are to all the communities I represent and will do everything in my power to keep consistent, year-round service.

As far as working towards a long-term solution, Senator Kiehl and I have invited the Governor’s Legislative Office, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities to join our bipartisan effort to enhance and preserve AMHS. This effort involves legislation, as well as looking at smarter ways to do business to ensure that we can provide the levels of service that Alaskan communities need to grow and thrive. I look forward to those discussions with the administration and will update you as things develop.

As previously mentioned, all the subcommittees in the House are using the FY20 adjusted base as a starting point instead of the governor’s proposed budget. Although there will certainly be cuts, all the departmental budgets, not just AMHS’s, will look vastly different than the governor’s proposals.

The best advice I can give is to stay engaged and try not to panic.

Stay engaged because testifying on the budget when those opportunities arise in committee is a great way to let the administration and other legislators know how you feel. I will be sure to update you on public testimony opportunities.

Try not to panic for three reasons. Firstly, the Legislature is the appropriating power, not the governor. Second, try not to panic because the governor’s vision for Alaska has brought people together. Whether someone represents the Mat-Su, Fairbanks, Anchorage, Nome, or Cordova, this budget proposal hurts their constituents, which has created unlikely allies. Lastly, try not to panic because we have a strong coastal contingent in the House that will fight tooth and nail to protect your priorities. The chair of the operating budget is from Nome, the Speaker represents Dillingham, and the Majority Whip is yours truly. Aside from that, the chair of the operating budget on the Senate side, Senator Stedman, represents Sitka, Petersburg, Wrangell, and Ketchikan, all of which are small coastal communities.

Board of Fisheries:

Having just returned from the Board of Fisheries Hatchery Committee meeting, I want to say how impressed I was with the turnout from Cordova. The Hatchery Committee is delving into a mountain of data on the straying of salmon to other streams and runs and the potential effects associated with that. There is a lot at stake during these discussions and it’s great to see stakeholders engaged in the public side of the board process.

The Fisheries Committee will be holding a presentation on hatcheries by the different regional aquaculture associations in the near future. I will be sure to update you when we have that scheduled.

Pink Salmon Disaster:

I am starting to feel like a broken record, but I have nothing new to report on the 2016 pink salmon disaster relief. I did speak personally to a representative of the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission earlier this week to see if NOAA had finally signed off on the State’s distribution plan. Unfortunately, Pacific States is still in a holding pattern; however, they still maintain that the process is moving forward and that approval from NOAA is expected any day.

They were able to offer some encouraging information, which is that once they have the grant funding, checks will start flowing out the door to fishermen within a month.

I am checking in with Pacific States several times a week to see if there have been any developments. As soon as I have more information, I will update the paper and our email list.

If you would like to be added to our disaster relief email list, please contact my fisheries committee aide, Matt Gruening, at matt.gruening@akleg.gov .

Thanks again for your patience. This has been a long process, but I believe we are finally near the finish line.

Remember, I work for you. Please reach out to me with your concerns on the budget or anything else that is important to you and your family.

Sincerely,

Rep. Louise Stutes