Peggy's Corner of the House
Hello once more from Alaska’s capitol. Well, the 90 day session Legislature came to an end shortly after midnight on Sunday. It was a mad dash the last few days, with dozens of bills being passed in both bodies after weeks of deliberation in committees. There was also a rush of creative bill drafting during the last half day that helped both bodies pass some important legislation.
One of the great things about working on the budgets this year is that for every dollar spent in the Capital Budget, four dollars were added to savings through the Operating Budget. That being said, working out the Capital Budget is always a real challenge. There are so many infrastructure projects that we all want to get done, that it’s very hard to prioritize those the state can afford to fund each year. I know that some of our District 2 projects didn’t make the cut, but I’m very satisfied with the projects that are in the budget. We will see a lot of construction in each of our towns during the next year. Of course, once the legislature transmits the budget to the governor, he still has an opportunity to veto any of the items before the next fiscal year begins in July 2012. You can find a spreadsheet of the District 2 allocations on my site at http://www.PeggyWilson.com.
One of the high priorities of the 27th Legislature has been the passage of a more equitable oil tax structure that would incentivize increased oil production, while at the same time protect and maximize revenues to the state. We did pass legislation that will create production and revenue in the long-term by providing tax credits for new development in oil fields located in what is being termed “Middle Earth”. This is a great step to take; and will do a lot to incentivize small exploration oil companies to invest in parts of Alaska that are not now under development. However, this is not enough. We need a short-term fix that will incentivize more production and revenues from our legacy fields as we wait the 5-10 years for those new fields to produce.
Our other big priority was Education funding. We all worked very hard to come up with legislation that will help provide for excellent schools and workforce development, while still practicing fiscal restraint. I’m happy to say that between bills and appropriations, the across-the-board education plan does the following:
· Extends vocational education for seventh and eighth graders; and includes 50% more funding for vocational education funding for grades 7-12.
· Funds a three-year pilot project to enhance early learning.
· Increases funding and inflation proofs student transportation costs.
· Fixes the mill rate that municipalities contribute to education at 2.65 mills, making it fair and equal all across the state. This change means that the state is paying the extra to communities that will hopefully decide to put it towards education.
We also included another $25 million in the capital budget to go directly to schools. This additional funding is based on the foundation formula, without permanently changing the Base Student Allocation.
The House is forming an ‘education working group’ over the interim. Some of the topics to be discussed will include teacher retention and the rising costs of energy and health insurance. Within the bounds of our constitutional responsibility to spend the public’s money wisely, our goal is to strengthen the education system, raise test scores and improve graduation rates in those schools where these issues exist.
Among the flurry of legislation that was passed in the last few days of the session, I am very pleased to report that my House Bill 216 successfully passed both bodies on Saturday. This bill will help all of us understand new regulations and changes in regulations, as notices will now be accompanied by brief, descriptive summaries that are written in clear, easily readable language that a person without a legal background can understand.
Unfortunately, House Joint Resolution 26, the Sea Otter bill, was not brought up on the Senate floor for a vote. This is a shame; as it’s time agencies begin a serious and productive conversation about how to deal with the sea otter over abundance in Southeast that is hurting our dive and commercial fisheries.
My other legislation that didn’t make it through was HJR 4; which would have put the question of a dedicated Transportation Infrastructure Fund (ATIF) on the ballot this year. I’m very disappointed that Senator Stedman wouldn’t allow this bill to be heard in the Senate Finance committee so that the voters could decide this issue.
Now the governor has called us back for a special session to deal with three issues. First, he wants us to pass HB 359, a sex-trafficking bill that will keep young Alaskans, both male and female, safe from those who would enslave them in the sex trade – something that has been happening across the state. Second, he would like us to pass legislation that will help develop an in-state gas line. And third, the governor has asked us to work together to create a comprehensive oil tax structure that will work better for the state than the current ACES tax structure. I expect that we will be here for most, if not all, of the next month.
I was delighted to introduce a group of young constituents from Petersburg on the House floor on Saturday. The Fiddleheads were here for the Alaska Folk Festival, and took time to perform “In the Palm of Your Hand” as the opening prayer at the beginning of session. They did a beautiful job, and I was so proud of them.
That’s all from Peggy’s Corner of the House at the end of the 27th Legislature.