Bills Focus on Prepping Alaskans for Critical Job Shortages,
Giving Businesses an Incentive to Invest in Post-secondary Skill Programs
April 18, 2007
The Alaska House of Representatives today passed a pair of bills to help the state gear up for a looming shortage in skilled and trade labor, in response to the continuing growth in the construction industry. The bills, HB 2 and HB 61, come at a time when the construction industry is estimated to spend $7 billion on projects across the state this year. Sponsored by Rep. Mark Neuman (R-Big Lake), the bills establish a vocational education account within the general fund and expand the state's education tax credits for businesses to promote post-secondary voc-ed programs.
"Construction and commerce are booming throughout the state, yet our skilled workforce is graying and our K-12 education system just doesn't have enough funds to prepare our students to fill that critical gap," Neuman said. "Industry, unions and even the academic community have told us over the past few years that there's a problem brewing in our schools, and these two pieces of legislation show that we in the Legislature are doing what we can to help.
"The vocational education account will allow schools to fund programs and begin to reinforce the emphasis that was once a core part of the system," Neuman said. "On the other hand, the state can't simply do it all for industry. By expanding our education tax credits for business to include voc-ed programs, we're helping both the state and industry by allowing them to partner with school districts to help build and guide the curriculum to best meet Alaska's present and future needs."
HB 2 creates a vocational education account within the state's general fund, which can be appropriated, subject to funding by the Legislature, for programs and courses approved by the commissioner of the Department of Labor & Workforce Development in consultation with the commissioner of the Department of Education & Early Development for any public purpose.
HB 61 extends the state's education credits for taxes on corporate insurance, income, oil or gas production, property, mining, fish and floating fisheries to include aspects of vocational education, support and training. The bill amends the credits to include funding or donations to public colleges and universities, university foundations, or by a nonprofit, public or private, and an accredited Alaska two-year or four-year college. HB 61 also adds language that public colleges and universities must report how the contributions received were used in their annual operating budget request.
"The education tax credits can be a valuable tool to encourage industry to help us manage the training and keep us on target to fill the jobs Alaskans should, and can, fill," Neuman said. "The Department of Revenue has told us the effect of providing the credits will be minor on the state's revenue, but I feel there would be major gains for our children and workforce.
"Former Labor Commissioner Greg O'Claray once said that it isn't a crime to make a living getting dirty and working with your hands, and I echo that statement," Neuman said. "For the past couple decades the primary and secondary school landscape has changed, focusing on reading, writing and math. There has been a narrow-minded closure on the other useful tools that our schools can provide, and a greater focus on getting kids into college. We need to show our students that life isn't only about books and numbers, but also about practical skills that can have an impact on their future outside of college. Not every child aspires to go to college, some just want skills that will allow them to make an honest living.
"The engine of our economy is driven by oil, and you won't find too many petroleum jobs that focus on theory or study. But you will find a lot of high-paying jobs that require specialized skills and trades that aren't being given the time of day in our school systems."
HB 2 and HB 61 have been referred to the Senate for its consideration.
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