Legislature Adjourns 29th Session
April 27, 2015
(SitNews) - The Alaska State Senate has adjourned from the first session of the 29th Legislature after striking a critical budget compromise with the House. The compromise preserves all of the priorities of the Senate Majority including restoring order and sustainability in Alaska’s fiscal house, creating affordable energy for all Alaskans, investing in the State’s next generation, fighting federal overreach, and taking leadership on Arctic issues.
"I am proud of this Senate and what we accomplished especially considering the seriousness of the fiscal situation we are in. We did our jobs, finished our work, the work of the people, on time, given the adversity our leadership faced with our fiscal crisis,” said Senate President Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage. “We approved a balanced budget that draws on reserves to fund priorities of Alaskans-Education, Public Safety, Infrastructure, and health and welfare of Alaskans.”
Due to State’s $8 billion shortfall over the next two years after a catastrophic fall in oil prices, the Legislature was able to reduce overall spending by $809 million from the Operating and Capital Budgets. Senators looked under every stone to find reductions while funding critical government services. While agency reductions ranged up to 33-percent, the Senate Majority preserved its priority to education by only reducing a scheduled increase to the BSA by 1.4% or $16 per student per year. Overall, the Operating Budget totaled $8.1 billion, with unrestricted general spending at $4.05 billion.
Meanwhile, the Legislature also passed the smallest Capital Budget since 2001. The Capital Budget included $108 million in Unrestricted General Funds (UGF). That’s $40 million less than the Governor’s proposed budget and $481 million less than last year in UGF spending and $2 billion less than UGF capital spending in 2012. The total budget is $1.5 billion. The budget also includes $43 million to renovate the school in Kivalina in order meet the State’s commitment to settle the Kasayulie case.
“The Senate took measures to protect Alaskans, and insulate our economy as best as we can due to the massive revenue shortfall we currently have,” said Senate Finance Co-Chair Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River. “Alaskans are smart, resilient people, and I know we will come together as Alaskans first, to provide for each other and work to plan and prepare for the tough times ahead.”
The Senate Majority's focus throughout the First Session has been finding revenue neutral ways to encourage excellence in education including post-secondary student loans, protecting parental rights, accountability for the Department of Education, protecting student data, establishing a Task Force for Civics Education, designating Alaska School Choice Week, reemployment of retired teachers and addressing unfunded mandates to schools.
Senate majority members also worked to provide affordable energy and stabilize Alaska’s economy and communities. These initiatives included the first phase of AKLNG project, the Interior Energy Project and renewed funding for home weatherization projects.
“I know we had a large mountain to climb and difficult budget battles, but I am proud of the way we fought for affordable energy, reducing spending while funding critical services to Alaskans, providing a voice to our Federal Government in Arctic advocacy and resisting overreach by agencies,” said Senate Majority Leader Senator John Coghill, R-North Pole. “I look forward to continuing our commitment to create a better future for All Alaskans next year.”
Senate Majority Members are also proud of their efforts to stop Federal Overreach and fight for the rights of Alaskans. Recent declarations by the Obama Administration threatened to jeopardize Alaska's ability to provide economic opportunity and essential State services to future generations. Senate members spoke out forcefully for Alaska's right to responsibly manage and develop our lands and resources by passing numerous resolutions, meeting with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, and working with Alaska’s U.S Delegation to make Alaska’s voice heard.
Finally, the Senate Majority drove leadership in Arctic development, research and infrastructure by passing an Arctic Policy. The Alaska Senate Majority also accepted the final Alaska Arctic Policy Commission (AAPC) report, "Our vision for the Arctic is based on economic and resource development, a healthy environment, secure and safe communities, and transparent decision making."
“As Alaskans are known to do, this Senate Majority came together, rolled up its sleeves, and began the difficult work of taking on this present challenge,” said Senate Rules Chair Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla. “I couldn’t be more proud of my colleagues for rising to the occasion by reducing the size of government, not adding new taxes, and fighting back against the federal government’s unconstitutional attacks on Alaska. I still believe Alaska’s best days are ahead.”
The Alaska House of Representatives adjourned following the passage of an operating budget and legislation adhering to the Majority’s Guiding Principles.
The House Majority noted they started the session facing four complex issues, each capable of dominating an entire session: including dealing with an unprecedented $3.9 billion budget shortfall; advancing a natural gas pipeline project; fighting federal overreach to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to resource development; and, implementing marijuana regulations to comply the will of the voters.
“Our Majority came to Juneau to do the work of the people that elected us; Alaskans,” Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said. “Times are tough and Alaskans understand that. We take no pride in having to make the cuts we did, but we did it for the long term future of Alaska. I’m proud of my members and all the work they have done.
“It is unfortunate that the House Minority Democrats continued to push for larger budgets and increased spending in order to get their support,” Chenault said. “It’s not for a lack of trying – we went back and forth with the minority but they refused to compromise and continued to push for increasing union wages and against necessary cuts to the budget. Because of the minorities ‘all or nothing’ demands we weren’t able to fully fund the FY16 budget. This is not what I want, this is not what the majority wants, but we will not be blackmailed into increasing spending when the state is facing major deficits.”
The Majority based its priorities and philosophy in six Guiding Principles: Develop Responsible Budgets that Protect Alaska’s Economy and Allow Us to Live Within Our Means; Build a Gas Pipeline and Bring Affordable Energy to Alaskans; Put Alaska First by Asserting and Defending Alaska’s Sovereignty; Diversify Alaska’s Economy by Empowering the Private Sector; Ensure Quality Schools, Educational Opportunities and Safe Communities; and, Protect the Permanent Fund.
“Our caucus stepped up to the plate in these tough fiscal times,” Majority Leader Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, said. “We had to work together to make incredibly difficult decisions, including reductions to our state’s budget in light of declining oil prices. We worked hard to take all views into account, and come up with a plan that makes responsible cuts and protects Alaska’s economy.”
“Our caucus goal was to meet the unprecedented fiscal challenges facing Alaska by taking responsible steps to reduce the size of government to something Alaskans can afford,” Rules Chairman Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, said. “It wasn’t easy – and next year won’t be either. This was merely the first step in an ongoing process to reduce spending and develop a sustainable budget.”
The House Majority Leadership highlighted the following bills by Guiding Principle (not the comprehensive list):
Responsible & Sustainable Budgets
- HB 72, the Statewide Operating Budget for FY16 day to day state government, was reduced by $271 million (11.9 percent) compared to FY15. This dollar amount is the largest single year cut in state history.
- SB 26, the capital budget, was reduced from the governor’s budget and used primarily to leverage federal funding. FY16’s budget includes $238.4 million in state funds and $1.275 billion in federal funds.
- HB 155 repeals six indirect expenditures that will bring in roughly $350,000 more in revenues.
- HB 158 establishes an environmental surcharge of ninety-five hundredths of a penny per gallon on refined fuel sold, transferred, or used in the state that will be appropriated to the Spill Prevention and Response.
- Senate Bill 64 sunsets Alaska statutes relating to state reimbursement for costs of local school construction and major maintenance debt for five years.
Gas Pipeline & Affordable Energy
- HB 132 ensures that AGDC maintains its commitment to the AK LNG Project and does not embark on a duplicative, competing project, until the future of the AK LNG Project is more certain.
- HB 105 continues progress on lowering energy cost in interior and rural Alaska.
- SB 70 authorizes the issuance of a right-of-way lease for a natural gas pipeline through a corridor in the Denali State Park, Willow Creek, Nancy Lake, and Captain Cook State Recreation Areas.
Defending Alaska’s Sovereignty
- HB 1 creates the first comprehensive Arctic policy for the State, honoring the Alaska Arctic Policy Commission’s (AAPC) report.
- HB 115 requires the United States to extinguish title to public lands and transfer them to the State on or before Jan. 1, 2017.
- HJR 9 urges the United States Congress to open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development, and tells the Department of the Interior to recognize the private property rights of land owners in and adjacent to ANWR.
Diversify Our Economy
- HB 100 allows a company that produces urea or ammonia or gas-to-liquids products to credit their taxes if their feed stock comes from a state lease.
- HCR 10 declares the legislatures’ recognition of the need for the Alaska Maritime Workforce Development Plan, the Alaska Workforce Investment Board and the Alaska Vocational & Technical Education Center in Seward.
Educational Opportunities & Safe Communities
- Replaced $31.5 of the $47.5 million inside the Base Student Allocation (BSA) that was removed by the Senate Finance Committee.
- HB 44 empowers school districts to provide child sexual assault and teen dating violence curriculum in elementary and secondary schools.
- HB 107 changes the composition of the University of Alaska Board of Regents to include geographic representation.
- HB 123 fulfills a component of the initiative voters passed in November 2014 by establishing a governing body to oversee and uphold regulations related to marijuana production and distribution.
Caucus Leaders noted that legislative business will continue during the interim, and discussions on Medicaid Reform and Expansion and advancing a gas pipeline will be at the forefront. Finance committee members and other principal committees will also meet and work with their state department counterparts.
“We made tough decisions this year to put Alaska on a more solid financial footing,” Majority Whip Bob Herron, D-Bethel, said. “Our caucus stayed true to the House Majority Guiding Principles, including defending Alaska’s sovereignty, economic diversification, affordable energy, and protecting the permanent fund. Though the deficit is still large and more work remains, what we’ve accomplished this year was significant.
The second session of the 29th Alaska Legislature is scheduled to convene Jan. 19, 2016 at the Capitol in Juneau. However, Governor Bill Walker issued a proclamation this evening to convene the Alaska State House of Representatives and Senate in a special session immediately in order to pass a fully funded state budget and consider pending legislation for Erin’s Law and Medicaid reform and expansion.
Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews
Source of News:
Alaska House Majority (Republicans) - Office of the Speaker
Senate Majority (Republicans)
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