2020 Southeast Conference Mid-Session Summit
By Austin Otos
February 28, 2021
The state legislative panel included representatives Dan Ortiz (I-Ketchikan), Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (D-Sitka), Sarah Hannan (D-Juneau), Andi Story (D-Juneau), Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak), and Steve Thompson (R-Fairbanks). Even though the panel consisted of some non-southeast legislators, their districts still have a connection to Southeast in that they are a coastal community or rely on the state ferry system. The panel was mainly focused at the time at forming a majority coalition in the State House and extending the State’s Declaration of Emergency order for COVID-19 to continue federal aid to Alaska. The legislative and budgetary items that would impact the Southeast region this year includes a bill to increase permitting for the mariculture industry, protecting funding for local DMV offices (6 offices impacted by budget cuts), and moving along with recommendations for the AMHS from the Governor’s working group last year.
The presentation on tourism by key industry officials was helpful to understand the long-term negative impacts of having no cruise ships in the region. This is particularly important to our community because both city and borough governments are beginning to feel the strain of reduced sales tax and CPV funds from low visitor population. We have now gone two consecutive years with no major cruise ships, which will continue to trickle down into future municipal budgets as we slowly rebuild our CPV funds and regrow our sales tax base. Both Senator Murkowski and Congressman Young addressed the limited cruise ship issue in their opening remarks, stating that they have contacted the Canadian government and informed the new presidential administration about the efforts to amend/waive the PVSA Act. One issue brought up during the panel discussion was the CDC’s inaction in making a COVID plan with cruise companies on how to safely sail again. It was noted that similar transportation entities such as buses, trains, and planes have had the opportunity to collaborate with the CDC to continue operations. Cruise officials and the federal congressional delegation raised concerns over the lack of CDC guidance on maritime transportation, which continues to stall the restart of the cruise ship season.
The economic forecasts looked quite abysmal for the Southeast region and dominated most of the conversation. However, some key take-aways for going into 2021 was wide support from coastal communities for the federal government to intervene in the cruise ship issue with Canada. Even though this issue will be ultimately determined in congress, local municipalities like the Ketchikan Gateway Borough were encouraged to pass resolutions addressing the PVSA Act. We do have some promising economic returns on mariculture and there was strong bi-partisan support for the house bill that is currently floating around the state legislature to help bolster the new industry. The main thing I took away from the conference is put on our economic thinking caps and continue to be vigilant in protecting our community from COVID until accessible vaccines are available for the entire general population.
About: Austin Otos is a member of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly.
Received February 25, 2021 - Published February 28, 2021
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