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By DAN ORTIZ
As the District 36 representative, my primary assignment now in the Legislature is to serve as the vice-chair on the House Finance Committee.
In that duty, I traveled to Juneau, Anchorage, Wasilla and Fairbanks between July 15-18 in order to hear public testimony on House Bill 2001, the special session budget bill.
During those three days of testimony, we heard over 600 people testify in person. During the month of July, we had over 2,300 Alaskans provide testimony to the House Finance Committee. Over 85% of the testifiers were in support of restoring the budget that we had sent the governor back in June.
On Monday July 29, Sen. Bert Stedman and myself, along with the majority of the Alaska Legislature, voted yes on our special session budget bills, Senate Bill 2002 and House Bill 2001. These “round two” budgets include funding for programs and items that the governor vetoed earlier.
SB 2002, the capital funding budget, leverages state spending of $171.5 million (combined Unrestricted General Funds and Constitutional Budget Reserve funds) to capture over 1 billion dollars in federal funds.The bill passed the Senate 19-0 and the House 32-6 (with the vote on how to fund it passing 31-7). It includes:
• A reverse sweep, which protects funds (and therefore programs) in the Higher Education Investment Fund and the Power Cost Equalization fund. The Higher Education Fund provides money for the WWAMI medical program and the Alaska Performance Scholarship program.
• Funding for the crime-reform bill HB 49, which was our SB 91 repeal from earlier this year
• Alaska Marine Highway System Vessel overhaul funds.
• Matching federal fund requirements used to pave our roads, repair our airports, and support for repair/construction of AMHS vessels
HB 2001 is the veto restoration and Alaska Permanent Fund dividend bill. It provides an approximately $1,600 PFD for each Alaskan (the original operating budget did not include a PFD). It restores funding for:
• The Senior Benefits Program.
• Pre-K grants and Early Learning Programs (including Head Start funding).
• Nearly $1 million in added funds for statewide fisheries management.
• The Alaska State Council on the Arts.
• Public broadcasting.
• University of Alaska (funded now at $110 million, which is about $25 million less than what was allocated in the operating budget originally passed by the Legislature)
• The Village Public Safety Officer program,
• Behavioral health treatment and recovery grants.
• Adult dental Medicaid.
• A $5 million addition to Marine Highway System funds.
Funding for the School Bond Debt Reimbursement obligation was restored while the bill was in the Senate. If that hadn't been restored, the entire burden of paying for these projects would have shifted to municipalities, and we would have certainly seen local taxes go up to accommodate the increased burden to local communities for our bond debt obligations. HB 2001 passed the House 21-10 and passed the Senate 17-2.
Both bills are in the process of being transmitted to the governor's desk, who has line-item veto power. He has 15 days to sign the bill. If he does use his veto power, the Legislature can choose to override his vetoes with a supermajority three-fourths vote.
If you want to continue staying engaged as Gov. Dunleavy decides whether to sign or veto the bills, you can call his office or send an email via the web at https://gov.alaska.gov/contact/email-the-governor. And as always, you can reach me by email at Rep.Dan.Ortiz@AKLeg.gov.
Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, represents House District 36 in the Alaska House of Representatives