Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell and Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka in May wrapped up the 27th legislative session, including a 30-day special session. They passed several pieces of legislation that benefit the Southeast region, and passed a capital budget that includes projects to benefit both Wrangell and Petersburg.
“For the region itself, I thought we did very well,” Wilson said. “Basically the capital budget, we came out really good with the capital budget for the region. I made several trips to the Governor’s office and I talked to him about the importance of our towns, especially in economic development, to show how important it was,” she added.
The FY2013 Capital Budget appropriates $2.9 billion, including $870 million for transportation, $370 million to improve schools and education, $210 million to reduce energy costs statewide, $90 million to improve health care. For Wrangell, this means $6.1 million boat yard improvements, $2.75 million travel lift and associated improvements, and a $1.8 million hospital and nursing home replacement project.
For Petersburg, this means $5.6 million commercial dock drive down facility, $3.5 million Nordic Drive refurbishment, and $3.5 million for North Harbor.
“For regional issues it went well for Southeast,” Stedman said regarding this year’s session. “As far as a lot of the Southeast issues it was very successful,” he added.
During this year’s legislative session, the House introduced 370 bills, and passed 75. The Senate introduced 227 bills and passed 40.
The highlights of this year’s session included House Bill 121, which creates new loan funds for small businesses, mariculture, commercial charter fisheries and community quota entities; House Bill 60, which expands geoduck farming; House Bill 246, which names a bridge in Petersburg after fallen Vietnam Marine, Harry Kito; House Bill 261, which enhances the commercial Fishing Revolving Loan Fund; House Bill 250, which reauthorizes the Renewable Energy Fund grant program until 2018; House Concurrent Resolution 18, which facilitates young Alaskans starting commercial fisheries careers; and House Joint Resolution 20, which opposes the “roadless rule” in the Tongass and Chugach National Forests.
“There were some real disappointments also, but as far as our region of the state we did pretty well,” Wilson said.
Immediately after the regular session, Gov. Sean Parnell pulled legislators back into a 30-day special session, to discuss oil and gas taxes, and possible plans for an in-state gasline, none of which were resolved.
“We couldn’t come to an agreement over the oil tax, I knew when that got passed that we would have to change it,” Wilson said. “There were 14 of us that voted against it at the time that it got passed and we knew that there would be changes. We were getting up against that line and we knew we were needed to be sure that our oil production doesn’t decline. Right now it’s declining at an average of 6 percent a year,” she added.
“Right now, our budget for this coming year was planned for the cost for a barrel of oil at $105, right now it’s at $100. So we know that next year we are not going to be making enough to pay for the budget. And that’s scary,” she added.
The governor’s sex-trafficking bill, House Bill 359, passed in both houses during the special session.
Senate Bill 130, which establishes an Alaska Native Language and Advisory Council, also passed. This council will assess the state of Alaska Native languages, re-evaluate the programs, and make recommendations to establish new programs or reorganize existing programs.
“I think it’s important that Native languages around the state are saved for future generations. Those languages get lost as time goes on,” Stedman said.
In addition to additional work that needs to be done in the district, both Stedman and Wilson will be heading into campaign mode.
“It’s an election year and there is still district work to be done,” Stedman said. ”We will be splitting efforts between the two,” he added.
The newly approved house district puts Petersburg in with Skagway, Gustavus, Tenakee Springs, downtown Juneau, and Douglas Island.
“Our family in Petersburg goes back more than 100 years,” Stedman said.
As chair of the senate finance committee, Stedman was able to add several local projects to the Capital Budget during the 90 day session.
“This year went well for Southeast,” Stedman said. “Statewide issues, we still need to work on the oil tax structure within the state, which was the biggest thing in front of the legislature this year. So, that will continue on until next winter,” he added.
Wilson will also no longer be representing Petersburg. “It’s just a bad thing for me that I won’t have Petersburg anymore. It’s going to be a very interesting campaign year. I’ve got new areas. Bert’s got new areas. It’s going to be really interesting, especially for Bert, he’s got all of Southeast accept for Juneau, Petersburg and Skagway. That’s a lot to handle,” Wilson said.
“I’m concerned for the smaller communities,” Wilson said. “We do try to stick up for each other in our communities in Southeast, we always have. You just can’t turn those things off. Even if the lines get switched around, you can’t turn off those concerns that you’ve had all along,” she added.