Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions
Alaska Municipal League Legislative Report
By Grant Echohawk and Austin Otos
March 27, 2023
Each year the Ketchikan Borough Lobbyist schedules meetings for the Ketchikan Delegation during the Legislative Session at the Capitol in Juneau. In recent years, the advocacy meetings have been scheduled to coincide during the week of the Alaska Municipal League (AML) Legislative Meeting. This yearly event is reserved for municipal governments to advocate to our state legislature for projects and issue that impact our local community. Ketchikan’s delegation consisted of: KGB Mayor Rodney Dial, City of Ketchikan Mayor Dave Kiffer, City Council Member Lallette Kistler, KGB Assembly Member Grant Echohawk, KGB Assembly Member Austin Otos, City Manager Delilah Walsh, and KGB Manager Ruben Duran. The delegation spent a considerable amount of time meeting with elected officials from around the state advocating for Ketchikan’s priority issues that were adopted by our three governing bodies. These issues included: increasing the state education formula for school districts known as the Base Student Allocation (BSA), meeting with Alaska Department of Transportation (AKDOT) officials on major infrastructure projects at the Airport and revamping of the Tongass highway in the downtown corridor, and transfer of green space land owned by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to the Ketchikan Gateway Borough for housing developments. Additionally, we listened to presentations on upgrading ports to allow for cruise ships to use shore power, municipal and school district access to the state health care system, and the Alaska Department of Public Safety replacing a large vessel for the Alaska State Troopers. If this project goes through, it is our intent to advocate for the public safety boat to be built in Ketchikan at the Vigor Shipyard.
The State of Alaska is considering changing retirement and health insurance eligibilities to spur better retention of employees. The plan is to expand the state health care system and allow for municipal governments to opt into the larger insurance pool, potentially creating a cheaper system for local governments struggling to fund employee health insurance costs. The Ketchikan delegation also met with Representative Dan Ortiz and Senator Bert Stedman. The main challenge that they identified for this legislative session was the $400-$500 million deficit that the State budget is facing into FY24 coupled with the appropriate payout of the PFD which will impact their ability to increase the BSA for school districts and fund important capital projects throughout the state. The Speaker of the House Kathy Tilton met with the delegation and expressed her position as the new speaker trying to balance all of the State’s regional interests and issues with effective legislation for the session. Major legislation for the year includes balancing the state budget, creating a new retirement tier system, and providing an appropriate level of funding for the Permanent Fund Dividend.
Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan spoke at the Alaska Municipal League Conference. Senator Murkowski reiterated her strong support for using the federal infrastructure funds to build a new Alaska Marine Highway ferry that will replace the Tustumena. She stressed the importance of the State of Alaska to not pass up the federal dollars and match them with state capital improvement funds. Even though this ferry is expected to be built out of state and service the Gulf of Alaska, it will be repaired yearly at our local shipyard, enhancing economic development for the community. Lastly, our delegation advocated on behalf of the City of Saxman for their infrastructure improvements to the newly proposed ferry terminal. DOT was supportive of the idea of increasing the flow of goods and people to improve economic and transportation access for rural communities.
Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly Members
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Received March 15, 2023- Published March 27, 2023 (Delay: Webmaster was ill)
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