Special session convenes on July 8

Representative Louise Stutes and Senator Gary Stevens listen to public comments during a town hall in Cordova on Friday, April 12, 2019. (Photo by Emily Mesner/The Cordova Times)

Dear Friends and Neighbors, 

There have been some developments regarding the upcoming special session, and I wanted to be sure to keep you all in the loop.

As I mentioned in last week’s update, the governor is attempting to force the Legislature to Wasilla for the upcoming special session to address the PFD on July 8th.  Let me be clear, we take our duty very seriously and are committed to convening and fulfilling our obligation to Alaskans. The only thing in dispute is the location of the special session.

I’m going to be blunt; it seems the governor’s only justification for Wasilla as the location is the region’s view of the PFD. Since first announcing his candidacy, then-Senator Dunleavy concentrated his PFD messaging early and intensely in the Mat-Su. He actively continued that effort throughout his campaign and first year in office with exactly this endgame in mind. In my opinion, the entire premise is that a hostile atmosphere will bully us into making a decision that we know to be harmful to Alaska’s future.

The governor is claiming that meeting in Wasilla will move the needle on the PFD and give Alaskans more access to the special session, both of which are patently false. Here is what is true:  1) This is one of the most critical discussions in our state’s history and a political stunt will not change its necessity, nor the underlying issues. 2) Wasilla would cost an additional $200,000 while providing significantly less access to the average Alaskan. Gavel to Gavel would not be able to cover a special session in Wasilla, leaving anyone without physical access to that location in the dark. That means my constituents will not have access to the proceedings. 3) Finally, the constitution is on the Legislature’s side. According to an analysis from our independent legal counsel, it is likely that the Governor’s actions in setting the location outside of the capital not only exceed the powers granted to him by the constitution, but also directly conflict with several constitutional provisions. Again, we are committed to finding a solution and passing a PFD that is responsible to both current and future Alaskans, but we will not let the Governor erode the constitution and needlessly waste $200,000 of the state’s money.

Senate President Giessel and House Speaker Edgmon released a joint statement on Monday that the Legislature will convene in Juneau on July 8thand that is where I will be.

The floor sessions will take place in Juneau, while a majority of the committee meetings will occur at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office. This will save almost all of that $200,000 by utilizing facilities designed for legislative meetings, while still allowing Alaskans on the road system in-person access to the committees. 

I have to pull the gloves off at this point. I cannot fathom what is going through our governor’s mind. From the ferry system dismantling, to stealing our raw fish-tax revenue, to cutting our weir counters and fisheries management dollars, etc., virtually all of the Governor’s proposals hurt coastal communities disproportionately higher than urban areas. His duty is to represent all Alaskans, not just the part of the state he hails from. 

That issue aside, the governor’s agenda isn’t in the best interests of the rest of the state either. He is forcing a lawsuit over our children’s education money, while trying to strong arm the Legislature into an enormous PFD that jeopardizes the fund and the dividend in the long run. He demanded reductions to the budget, and we delivered with $190 million in cuts, or the largest single-year reduction in Alaska’s history. Make no mistake, cuts this deep will have serious negative impacts on communities like ours. And for what? We acted in good faith and he still has not signed the operating budget, leaving state workers and people who depend on services in fear of a government shutdown. Further, he has vowed to use his veto power to cut much, much deeper. I am waiting in eager anticipation to see what those cuts will be.

To top things off, the governor is holding the capital budget hostage by refusing to include it in the special session call. He acknowledges that it needs work but wants to focus on the PFD. There are several hundred million dollars without a funding source in that budget, which in turn leverages almost $1 billion in federal funds. Those dollars are for infrastructure projects that are critical for jobs and a strong economy here in Alaska.  If the Legislature is not allowed to provide state matching funds, those projects will not move forward for another year.

The actions of this administration can only be described as madness. They are looking for a fight where none exists and continue to act counter to the best interests of Alaskans across the state.

I know this is a confusing time for people to follow state politics and there are a lot of facts and opinions being thrown at you.  In your consideration of what the truth is and what you think is best for Alaska, I ask that you please consider this: 

There is nothing popular about the stance other legislators and I have taken regarding the PFD. Why are so many legislators, both conservatives and liberals, taking this very difficult stance if it wasn’t necessary?  

I believe you elected me to drive at the truth, inform you about what I’ve learned, and then let you collectively inform me what our district wants. The numbers do not lie, and the truth is, despite how politically popular it is, paying a $3,000 dividend with no plan in place recklessly endangers future dividends, the fund itself, and the many services such as K-12 education and ferry service that make Cordova a great place to live. There would be more options available if oil taxes, an income tax, or some sort of broad-based tax were on the table, but the Governor is unwilling to discuss those as well.

The Governor will tell you that the Legislature is trying to take the easy path. I submit to you that we are trying to get Alaska on the right path, but it is a hard one.  It is a path that includes difficult discussions about the PFD, some form of a broad-based tax, oil tax reform, the size of the budget, and every other expense and revenue of the state. 

A solution that only considers how large we can make the PFD and how far we can go in reducing services is the easy path. It is, I believe, also the wrong path and one that leads to a depleted, lesser Alaska for our children. 

This session has been very difficult and full of hard decisions, but as long as I am your Representative, I will continue to drive at the truth, keep you informed, fight for our district, and do what is right for Alaska’s future. 

On an unrelated note, next Monday, July 1st, is the anticipated release date of the 2016 pink salmon disaster relief funding from NOAA to the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSMFC) for initiation of the application/distribution process. For those who have been patiently waiting three long years for this relief to arrive, I think it may finally be here. We have been told that PSMFC will have their website for this grant active on July 1st, which is a good indication PSMFC at least expects the approval to occur on time. My plan is to check in with Senator Murkowski’s office and PSMFC on Monday to confirm that the funds were released, gather more specifics regarding its implementation, and update you again early next week. 

Remember, I work for you. Please reach out to me with your thoughts or concerns on anything I have discussed in this update or something else important to you and your family.

Sincerely,

Rep. Louise Stutes