Capitol Report: Budget remains key legislative focus

Hello again from Juneau. With the legislative session now in its sixth week, there is a lot happening in the Capitol. Of course, the major item on our agenda is the Fiscal Year 2023 budget. Although it is too early to say what it will look like, the Finance Committees in both legislative bodies are meeting with the governor’s finance experts and commissioners to gather information that will be used in the budget process.

Update on Legislation

Since our last Capitol Report, there has been more movement on some of my personal legislation.

On Tuesday, Feb. 15, the Senate unanimously passed SB 33. The bill extends the state’s salmon and herring product development tax credit and adds similar tax credits for value-added processing in the pollock and cod industries.

SB 33 expands upon a bill I sponsored in 2003 that created the Alaska Salmon Product Development Tax Credit, which is credited as being a big reason for the increase in commercial value of Alaska salmon. The legislature later passed a bill to extend the salmon tax credits and expanded the program to include tax credits for herring value-added processing.

SB 33 is currently awaiting a hearing in the House Finance Committee.

SB 20 is also moving through the House of Representatives. The bill would allow Alaska teacher certification reciprocity to relocating educators. This would only happen if the teacher’s certification were in good standing in their former state.

I believe the bill will give Alaska’s school districts an additional means of addressing teaching shortages. It will also allow incoming teachers an opportunity to receive Alaska-specific education training after being hired rather than beforehand.

SB 20 passed the Senate late last session.

SB 32 is currently awaiting a vote of the full House. The bill would expand public high school students’ access to college coursework by providing a way for school districts to partner with the University of Alaska to earn dual high school and college credit.

Also called “middle colleges,” these dual-credit programs have successfully operated for many years. In Alaska, several school districts are also now participating or developing middle college programs of their own, in collaboration with the University of Alaska. Enactment of SB 32 will provide guidelines for increasing middle college programs around the state. The bill does require enrollment in an Alaska public school for participation, with availability to students who have completed the eighth grade. SB 32 will also require an annual report to the legislature on student participation, course offerings and the total number of earned credits.

SB 72 passed the Senate on Wednesday, Feb. 16. The goal of the bill is to improve awareness of the importance of civics education among our students. Should it pass into law, the State Board of Education and Early Development would develop curriculum and related assessment based on the civics portion of the naturalization examination administered by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship. The curriculum and assessment must also include systems of Alaska Tribal government.

Passage of civics would also be required for a high school diploma. Exceptions would be made for students with a disability and those who receive a waiver from their local school board.

SB 72 is currently in the House Education Committee.

Permanent Fund Dividend applications

A little over a month remains until the Thursday, March 31 deadline to apply for this year’s Permanent Fund Dividend. I recommend you apply at pfd.alaska.gov. If you do use the post office, I encourage your sending the application by certified mail and request a return receipt to ensure its receipt by the PFD Division.

PFD Education Raffle

The PFD Education Raffle allows Alaskans 18 and over to donate money from their dividend to public education in $100 increments per entry. 50% of this generated revenue is allocated to supplemental education grants, 25% is allocated to the Education Endowment Fund, and 25% is allocated to the raffle fund. For the raffle drawing, first prize is 8% of the raffle fund; second prize is 4%; third prize is 2%; fourth prize is 1%; and the remaining 85% of the raffle’s revenue will grow the fund for future years’ prize money.

If you are interested in taking part in the next raffle, you will want to make sure to get your PFD application completed before the March 31 deadline.

D.O.T. survey

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities is looking for your input for transportation improvements through its latest internet survey. The survey is designed to let you select spots in Alaska you care about, and then share your opinion about modes of transportation in those areas (you can take the survey multiple times if you have multiple areas of interest).

The survey is open through the end of March at dot.alaska.gov/infrastructureact.

Contact information

Whether you are coming to Juneau during the legislative session and would like to make an appointment to meet, or need help with a state agency matter, I would like to hear from you.

Email me at: sen.gary.stevens@akleg.gov.

You can call me in the Capitol at 1-800-821-4925 or 907-465-4925.

Help with the Federal government

Should you need help with federal government matters, I advise you to contact the members of Alaska’s Congressional Delegation.

  • Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s Anchorage office can be reached at (877) 829-6030.
  • Sen. Dan Sullivan’s Anchorage Office can be reached at (907) 271-5915.
  • Rep. Don Young’s Anchorage office can be reached at (866) 990-5979.

Thank you for reading this edition of the Capitol Report. I look forward to sharing more news on our work this legislative session again in a few weeks.