Capitol Report: Alaska House debates budget bill

Hello again from Juneau. The legislative session is approaching the two-month mark and we are seeing many bills progressing through committees in both bodies, the most important being the 2023 Fiscal Year budget bill (House Bill-281). The bill was to see further debate in the House Finance Committee beginning Wednesday, March 16. The current version of the bill calls for a $4.1 billion budget, $148 million more than the governor’s proposal.

Increases from the governor’s budget include:

  • $50 million for public schools;
  • $5 million for senior and disability services;
  • $4.6 million for the University of Alaska;
  • $4 million for regional and community jails and;
  • $1.5 million for public radio.

The House Finance Committee’s budget also calls for a combined Permanent Fund Dividend (PFD) and energy relief check of $2,500.

Once it leaves the House Finance Committee, HB 281 faces debate and possible amendments during a House floor hearing. After passing the House, HB 281 comes to the Senate for consideration. Just as in the House, the bill will be debated and likely amended by the Senate Finance Committee, including opportunities for public comment, before going to a floor vote.

Differences between the Senate and House versions of the budget bill by the Senate will ironed-out by a conference committee comprised of three members of each body. Final legislative approval of the budget will likely occur on the last day of session in mid-May.

Standing with Ukraine

On March 9, the Senate unanimously passed two resolutions expressing our support for the people of Ukraine in its war with Russia.

Senate Joint Resolution 25 is sponsored by the Rules Committee, which I chair. It states in no uncertain terms that the Alaska Senate stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine in condemning Russia’s illegal invasion of their country and demanding a quick and peaceful end to hostilities. The resolution supports current economic sanctions against the Russian Federation and urges the United States Congress and the President to consider further measured and appropriate sanctions to help end this unconscionable war.

SJR 24 is sponsored by the Senate Resources Committee. It calls for President Biden’s Administration and the United States Congress to increase clean oil and gas production and renewable options in Alaska and other energy-producing states to offset the loss of imported Russian oil and to strengthen the economy and security of the nation.

Both resolutions have been transmitted to the House for further consideration.

Personal Legislation update

I am continuing efforts to move my personal legislation through the legislative process this session. Among these bills is Senate Bill 33, which is currently awaiting its next hearing by the House Finance Committee.

SB 33 expands upon a bill I sponsored in 2003 to create the Alaska Salmon Product Development Tax Credit. The program 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.

Senate Bill 32 advanced from the House State Affairs Committee on Feb. 3 and is currently in the House Rules Committee, its last stop before a floor vote. SB 32 is designed to 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.

Known as “middle colleges,” these dual-credit programs have operated successfully for several years. Several Alaskan school districts currently participate or are developing middle college programs of their own with the collaboration with the University of Alaska. Passage of SB 32 will provide a framework to increase middle college opportunities for students throughout Alaska.

SB 32 does require enrollment in an Alaska public school for participation, with availability to students who have completed the eighth grade. SB 32 requires an annual report to the legislature on student participation, course offerings and the total number of earned credits.

Senate Bill 186 to extend operations of the Board of Examiners in Optometry passed the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee on May 8. The Board of Examiners in Optometry consists of 5 members whose role is to issues applications, licenses, and permits for practicing members of the profession and to regulate the industry. Without SB 186’s passage, this important board will cease its work on June 30th this year.

SB 186 is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee.

Constituents serving the state

Congratulations to Robert Mathis of Anchor Point on his appointment to Alaska Fire Standards Council. The 12-member panel’s role is to establish professional standards for fire service personnel, and curriculum requirements for the certification of training programs.

You can find more information on Alaska’s State boards and commissions and their functions at alaska.gov/services/boards-and-commissions.

Permanent Fund Dividend deadline approaching

2022 PFD applications are being accepted through Thursday,March 31. Having used the online application system for my PFD application, I can assure you it is a quick and easy way to file for your dividend.

File for your PFD at pfd.alaska.gov.

If you are filing by mail, I recommend sending the application by certified mail. You should also request a return receipt to ensure it is received by the PFD office.

Pick.Click.Give.

Many local nonprofit organizations are taking part in the Pick.Click.Give. program again this year in conjunction with the Permanent Fund Dividend Division. This program offers you the opportunity to donate all, or part of your PFD in $25 increments to the nonprofit organization of your choice. 

Pick.Click.Give is run by the Alaska Community Foundation in partnership with the Rasmuson Foundation, the Foraker Group, and the State of Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend Division.

(You can get more information on the program at pickclickgive.org.

Keep in touch

Please let me know your thoughts on the many matters coming before the legislature. Send your e-mails to me at Sen.Gary.Stevens@akleg.gov

My Capitol building phone numbers are 1-800-821-4925 or 907-465-4925.

If you have the time, I hope you will add your comments to the record as bills and resolutions are heard by legislative committees. The Legislative Information Office (LIO) near you will have more information on bill hearings and committee schedules throughout the session.

  • In Cordova, the LIO can be reached at 907-424-5461.
  • The Homer LIO’s phone number is 907-235-7878.
  • You can find the Kenai LIO at 907-283-2030.
  • The Kodiak LIO can be reached at 907-486-8116.

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