By DAN ORTIZ
March 23, 2015
(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska - From the beginning of this legislative session, everyone knew the 3.5 billion dollar budget deficit would be the driving force behind nearly all legislative considerations. With oil tax revenue making up 90% of all state revenue, and oil prices dropping from an average of $110 a barrel to approximately $50 a barrel, there was no escaping the necessity of making some extremely difficult budget reductions. The decisions made in each legislative committee resulted in budget cuts across the board to all regions of the state. However, because of the strong impact of public testimony coming from the community of Wrangell, we were able to make some significant gains back from the initial proposed cuts.
The Alaska Marine Highway System was initially targeted for a 9.8 million cut from the Governor’s budget, which had already been reduced. After intensive public testimony, .8 million of general funds money was restored. This, coupled with a shift of existing funds within the AMHS, will allow the ferry system to restore some of the projected reductions in ferry service for Southeast. Representative Kito and I pushed an amendment on the house floor that would have removed 5 million from the Juneau Access road. That 5 million would have been redistributed - 3 million to aid the state deficit, and 2 million to the Alaska Marine Highway System. The amendment did not pass.
There is good news. Although originally they suffered a 100 percent cut, our timber sales office in Ketchikan will be able to remain open. I, along with my colleagues, pushed a successful amendment that restored partial funding for this program. This partial funding will allow three positions in Ketchikan to remain. This is a good thing for all of southeast, as partial restoration will allow lumber mills and other processors to purchase state, Mental Health, and University of Alaska timber efficiently. We also had a successful showing in the House Transportation committee during the public testimony portion of the hearing. Many folks called in to show their support for HB 53, sponsored by Rep. Kreiss-Tomkins and myself, which calls for DOT to hang public notices and hold by-request town hall meetings before spraying broadcast chemicals along roadways.
A big thank you to everyone who testified for the budget or the pesticide bill, and all those who write or call my office. I couldn’t do my job without your input.
Dan Ortiz writes A View From the House column weekly.
Ortiz is an independent member of the Alaska House of Representatives, who has since 2015 represented the 36th District. He is the only independent in the Alaska State Legislature.