Let’s Get the Job Done … In the Capitol
By DAN ORTIZ
April 30, 2015
(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska - The Alaska State Legislature is in special session. We adjourned out of regular session on the evening of April 27th without fulfilling our constitutional duty as appropriators for the state of Alaska. In response, Governor Walker called the legislature into special session to deal with the state budget, Medicaid expansion, and House Bill 44 (Erin’s Law), which relates to sexual assault prevention programs.
Although we are days into the special session, we have not addressed any of those topics. The issue we have been discussing is where and when we should have this special session to address those issues! There is a strong desire amongst some in both the House and Senate majorities to hold the special session in Anchorage, after recessing for about 11 days. I do not believe that a vacation is appropriate at this time. I also do not support moving our legislature out of southeast. For cost containment and efficiency, we should remain in Juneau until the job is done. The non-partisan Legislative Affairs office has published a cost analysis comparing the price of holding session in Juneau ($1,055,664), Anchorage ($1,331,937) and Fairbanks ($1,270,859). I believe it is our responsibility as legislators to be mindful of the fiscal crisis and to be fiscally conservative when it comes to our own expenditures. The legislature should be cost efficient, and we should hold the special session in Juneau.
Regarding the budget and the deadlock between my coalition, the Independent-Democratic Caucus and the Senate Majority: The fundamental divide rests around where to reduce expenditures and invest our resources. My coalition believes we should reduce funding for new megaprojects and postpone subsidies or tax credits to oil companies, while the Senate majority believes we should reduce funding to education and cancel bargained contracts with state employees. Governor Walker is most aligned with my coalition, asking for restored funding to education, restored funding to the Alaska Marine Highway system, and to honor the state employee contracts negotiated in good faith.
From the beginning of his campaign, Governor Walker has said that it’s in Alaska’s best interest to expand Medicaid. Each day that we don’t, the State forgoes $400,000 of revenue. Medicaid Expansion is projected to save Alaska $6.6 million in FY 2016 alone, and $107 million by 2021. It would provide medical coverage for up to 42,000 Alaskans who currently have no coverage. Expansion would be a boost to the economy and a job creator. The common understanding within the Legislature is that if majority leadership in the Senate and House allowed a vote on their respective floors, it would pass out of both bodies.
I continue to approach each day of the legislative session being very thankful for the opportunity to represent our district and the good people of southern southeast. I have found that there are many fine and good people that serve in this legislative body, on both sides of the aisle, in both legislative bodies. I have a very strong working relationship with Senator Stedman, and we see eye to eye on almost all of the issues that face our state. I remain hopeful that the “angels of our better nature” will prevail throughout the 60 members of the Alaska Legislature, and that we will succeed in serving Alaska and the best interests of Alaskans.
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.