Hello again from the Legislature. Now that we’re down to the last two weeks of session, the pace is really picking up and the hours getting longer.
I was very pleased that my resolution to recreate the state’s dedicated transportation fund received approval of the House on Friday. House Joint Resolution 4 would put a constitutional amendment before the voters in November to amend the Alaska Constitution - reinstating a dedicated Alaska Transportation Infrastructure Fund (ATIF).
As the state’s population grows, construction and maintenance of our roads, airports, harbors, ferries, and public buildings may have to fight for funding against growing costs like Medicaid and Medicare, pensions and schools. We need to be sure the revenues collected from transportation activities are spent on transportation projects.
The price of oil is high right now, the state is receiving billions in surplus revenue, and we’ve fully repaid the Constitutional Budget Reserve; so we can afford to make a one-time endowment to this fund now. In addition to this initial investment, 50% of transportation-related fees and taxes will be directed back into the fund, making it a dependable revenue stream from year to year.
If passed by voters in November, the ATIF would require legislation which would 1) appropriate $1 billion dollars to the fund, and 2) define how the fund will be maintained and projects selected for implementation. HJR 4 now moves to the Senate for consideration.
My Sea Otter bill, HJR 26, passed the House unanimously last week, and will be heard in the Senate this week. The resolution urges federal agencies to work with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Southeast Alaska Native leaders, and other interested parties to establish strategies and plans for the sustainable management of the sea otter population of Southeast Alaska.
I’m happy to report that House Bill 365 - which was prompted by the discovery in Sitka’s Whiting Harbor of an invasive species nicknamed ‘rock vomit’ - was moved from House Resources. I co-sponsored this bill; which will authorize the Department of Fish and Game to work in cooperation with the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Department of Natural Resources, and other state, federal, public and private entities, to establish a rapid response and management plan for addressing occurrences of marine aquatic invasive species.
Among items of interest this week, I want to mention that Alaska Fish and Game has received another grant from NOAA for the Southeast Alaska Chinook Salmon Fishery Mitigation Program. A stakeholder meeting will be held in Juneau on May 2 & 3 to formulate recommendations for program components and funding allocations. Much more information is available on the Fish and Game website.
Alaska’s Division of Mining, Land and Water now has an Auction Opening of Land Sales across the state, including some in Southeast. Bids will be accepted through May 30, 2012. For more information the Southeast Regional office can be reached at 907-465-3400.
As the deadline approaches for filing tax returns, I want to remind you that the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) can pay money back to low income workers, regardless of how much they earn or whether they are married or have children. A tax return must be filed in order to receive an EITC. The IRS estimates that 20% of eligible workers do not claim the credit because they don’t know about it or don’t understand it. If you have questions, call the IRS at (800) 906-9887.