Legislative Update: Alaska needs a fiscal solution to remain vibrant

Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak. (July 27, 2019) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

I was thrilled to attend Electrify Alaska last week. It was very exciting to see Cordova at the center of such innovation. Congratulations to Mayor Koplin for hosting such a fabulous event! 

Now that the fourth special session has drawn to a close, I wanted to provide a quick recap, as well as an update on what’s in store for the regular session in January.   

At the end of the fourth special session, and after a month of floor sessions with empty seats and nothing on the calendar, Alaskans are rightfully asking: why was there yet another special session with little progress towards a fiscal solution?  

That’s a great question.  

By the end of the third special session, the Legislature had already passed a balanced budget, avoided burdening Alaskans with taxes, and provided an $1,100 PFD.  

Lawmakers united around achieving a comprehensive fiscal solution, and work toward that end was well under way. However, it was clear that additional time is required to reach consensus and the necessary votes on the legislation before us.  

Recognizing those facts, facing a record number of days in session, and wanting to save the state over $1.6 million in special session costs, Senate President Peter Micciche and I urged the Governor Dunleavy to cancel the special session. We assured him that committee work was underway and would continue regardless. Instead, the governor called us back a fourth time.  

It is worth noting that the governor’s plan, the driving force behind three special sessions, has failed to gain consensus.  

It was clear since day one that constitutionalizing a $1 billion budget deficit without providing the means to pay for it (the governor’s 50/50 constitutional PFD) lacked the necessary support in the Legislature. 

At every hearing, lawmakers asked the administration, “How are you going to pay for it?”  

Over the course of a 121-day regular session and four special sessions, the answer was never produced, and administration refused to support existing revenue proposals. 

While only the governor can answer why a fourth special session was called, I will say that progress would be greatly facilitated by more buy-in from the governor that new revenues are necessary to sustain both a larger PFD and essential services.  

I implore the governor to endorse existing revenue measures or introduce his own legislation as it would certainly move the needle on some key votes next session. 

So, what’s next for the Legislature?  

There is no doubt that Alaska, and particularly communities like Cordova, need a fiscal solution to remain healthy and vibrant. No clearer has that been exemplified than in recent cuts to the marine highway system, fisheries management, community revenue sharing, education, and much more. 

Alaskans also deserve certainty in annual PFD payments and for the amount to be as high as we can afford.   

After years of deep budget cuts, the conversation has shifted from “What is worth funding?” to “How do we pay for the services we agree are worth funding?”  

There is also a consensus that we cannot kick the can down the road any longer, and I am optimistic that we can make significant progress this coming session. 

The House Majority will continue working in the weeks leading to January to find common ground with the three other caucuses and the governor on solutions. 

Even if a grand bargain cannot be reached next year, we must move forward with every component we agree on.  

I won’t sugar coat it: things won’t be easier next session and achieving meaningful change is difficult in an election year. However, you have my word as Speaker of the House, that I am doing everything in my power to resolve this gridlock and move our state forward. 

Alaska has incredible wealth in the Permanent Fund, its natural resources, and world-class fisheries and tourism. While things may appear bleak at the end of a fourth special session, we are closer than ever to a solution, and Alaska is still amazingly blessed with opportunities. 

Once we get over this hump, which we will, we have a bright future ahead.  

I will be sure to update you on the components of any proposed fiscal plan once that comes into focus closer to January.

Fisheries

I am planning to be in Cordova next month for the Board of Fisheries meetings. There are some critical proposals regarding hatchery production in PWS, as well as fishing on the Copper River. Currently, my office is submitting letters of opposition to proposals 49-55 and a letter of support for proposal 19.  I am just beginning to review the other proposals, so please reach out to me with any particular concerns or support. 

As I’m sure most of you are aware, disbursement of round 1 of CARES fisheries relief has been delayed for some time. The most current estimate from ADF&G is that Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission will mail checks in “late November.” Applications for round 2 of CARES should be available starting “mid-to-late November.” I will update you once applications have been finalized and approved by ADF&G. 

On a final note, I will be in the UFA booth at Pacific Marine Expo. Cordova and Kodiak always have strong representation, and I looking forward to seeing you there.  

Remember, I work for you. Please do not hesitate to contact me on any of these issues or anything else important to you and your family. 

Sincerely,

Louise Stutes 

Speaker of the House

Proudly Serving Kodiak, Cordova, Yakutat, and Seldovia 

Rep.Louise.Stutes@akleg.gov 

(907) 465-2487