Commentary: Republican senators to consider latest nominee for Senate District M

PFD special session, effort to expand slashed ferry service also on tap

Hello again. A little over three months remain in the interim and, as always, there is a lot happening in the Legislature. In the Senate, Republicans are preparing to meet as a group soon to consider the governor’s nomination of Rep. Josh Revak, R-Anchorage, to fill the Anchorage Senate District M seat opened by the passing of Sen. Chris Birch in August. Having not had much opportunity to speak with Rep. Revak since he started in the House of Representatives this year, I am looking forward to hearing his thoughts and finding out more about how his views align and differ with those of Sen. Birch on the many issues facing our state.

Potential PFD special session 

We are still awaiting word from the governor on his proposed special session to consider an additional appropriation to this year’s Permanent Fund Dividend. As you may recall, the Legislature appropriated funding that will pay Alaskans $1,606 PFDs this year, with a fiscal note of over $1 billion. In keeping with his campaign pledge, the governor has been lobbying lawmakers to approve a $3,000 PFD this year. A supplemental payment to reach that amount would cost another billion dollars.

With most of the Legislature favoring a lower PFD amount that will better ensure the program’s long-term sustainability, I do not believe a special session focusing on just the dividend will be successful. However, many lawmakers would be open to discussing a revision to the PFD statutory formula that reflects Alaska’s current financial circumstances were it also included in the special session agenda. 

In the present era of low oil prices, the role of the $66 billion Permanent Fund’s earnings has become increasingly important to the state’s fiscal health. I assure you no one in the Legislature wants to end the PFD program. If we use the fund’s earnings wisely, we can afford to provide the core services so many Alaskans rely upon, build the Permanent Fund’s value and also continue to pay Alaskans an affordable and reasonable PFD.

Education lawsuit update

Opening arguments begin Friday, Oct. 4 in Juneau Superior Court in the Legislature’s lawsuit against the governor over the forward funding of K-12 education. In 2018, lawmakers approved a two-year funding package for public schools with the goal of providing them some stability. 

Although approved by then Gov. Bill Walker, Gov. Mike Dunleavy argues forward funding violates the governor’s right to veto and the constitutional prohibition against dedicated funds. The Legislature contends the funding is a legal appropriation and must be paid. We believe the legislature has a strong case and hope the matter will be resolved quickly.

Ferry service 

Among the biggest state budget cuts impacting Senate District P this year was the $43 million hit taken by the Alaska Marine High System. After the Legislature added $5 million back into the AMHS budget during the summer special session, it was subsequently vetoed by the governor.

Currently, Cordova is without ferry service until mid-May. Kodiak Island and other coastal Alaska communities will lose service in January and impacts of AMHS cuts are rippling throughout the state.

We are working with the governor and are trying to convince him of the political damage he faces by not addressing service to our roadless communities. Although it is not perfect, even twice a month or monthly service would be better than no service at all. We have asked the governor to direct the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Commissioner to look at adjusting service to other communities and have made it clear that if they bring the Legislature a bill, we will see that it is paid.

We are trying every way we can to solve this problem. The governor appears to be listening and we hope he will see the necessity of addressing this immediately.

SB 61 becomes law

On Tuesday, Sept. 10, the governor signed my bill, SB 61, into law. The new law allows the Commercial Fishermen’s Fund to pay the full deductible, up to $5,000, when a claim for benefits is made to both the CFF and private protection and indemnity policy insurance. The new law goes into effect on Monday, Dec. 9.

The CFF was created in 1951 to provide for the care of sick and disabled fishermen working in Alaska’s fishing fleet.

PFD payout schedule

Eligible applicants who elected to receive their PFD by direct deposit can expect to see the money in their bank accounts on Thursday, Oct. 3. 

Checks to applicants whose applications are in the “eligible” status on or before Friday, Oct. 11 will be mailed on Thursday, Oct. 24.

You can check your PFD status online at pfd.alaska.gov.

The next PFD filing period begins Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020 and continues through Tuesday, March 31, 2020.

Assistances with state agencies

My staff is available throughout the year to assist you with issues involving state agencies.

Call us in Kodiak at 907-486-4925.

You can reach us in Homer at 907-235-0690.

My state capitol office in Juneau can be reached at 907-465-4925 or toll free at 1-800-821-4925.

E-mail me at Sen.Gary.Stevens@akleg.gov  

My interim address is: 

Senator Gary Stevens
305 Center Ave, STE 1
Kodiak, AK 99615

Please note that we are unable to assist you with legal matters. If you have a case involving a lawsuit or pending litigation and need help finding an attorney, I recommend contacting the Alaska Bar Association at alaskabar.org.

Help with the federal government

Alaska’s Congressional Delegation can aide you with matters involving the federal government, and all have offices in-state.

Rep. Don Young’s Anchorage office can be reached at 866-990-5979. 

Sen. Dan Sullivan’s Anchorage Office can be reached at 907-271-5915.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s Anchorage office can be reached at 877-829-6030.

Thanks again to our local media for their assistance in sharing this information, and to you for reading this month’s column.