EDITOR, Daily News:
Last week, the Alaska State House finished its work on the operating budget, which has been passed to the Senate for further work and debate. While there’s still work to be done, this year’s budget has the potential for some great investments for the needs of Alaskans. The House passed an Alaska Permanent Fund dividend for $1,250 this year and approved an additional Energy Relief Check of $1,300 to help mitigate the costs of record inflation and high fuel costs. While I know some District 36 constituents wanted a bigger PFD, this compromise means we can take a sustainable draw from the permanent fund to maintain its stability and growth into the future while still taking advantage of increased oil revenue to give a necessary boost to Alaskans.
Oil prices this year also gave us the funds to prioritize our investment in education. In addition to $1.2 billion for forward funding education and a $1.6 million appropriation to fund the WWAMI Medical Education program for two years, the House approved $111 million to fully fund School Bond Debt and REAA for FY23 and $66 million to pay the 50% that wasn’t paid for FY22 due to the failed three-quarter CBR vote. This is an important and overdue investment in our students, and helps to relieve pressure to increase property taxes at the local level.
The House also voted to fully fund the Alaska Marine Highway System through 2023 for $141 million, with $82 million coming from federal infrastructure IJJA Act funds. While this influx of federal funds will help with much-needed vessel replacement and maintenance, continued state funding for AMHS is necessary to show long-term investment towards returning Alaska’s ferry service to a consistent, reliable, and affordable system. Our ferry system remains one of my priorities, and this funding is a critical way to strengthen our regional economies and make sure Southeast Alaskan communities stay connected.
While I have heard a lot of support from my constituents for funding ferries and education, I’m also excited to see other investments in our communities. This budget adds $1.5 million in grants for rural public radio stations like KRBD and KSTK, an additional $5 million for seniors and disabilities services, and $1.2 in behavioral health grants. Most importantly, the House voted to add $2.2 billion in savings to the Statutory Budget Reserve by the end of FY23, which will help ensure Alaskans are protected through fluctuations in oil prices, natural disasters, or other changes in our future fiscal situation. This operating budget gives Alaskans a lot to work with, and we will see some good use of this funding in District 36. As always, I appreciate hearing your concerns and questions, and you can always reach me by emailing Rep.Dan.Ortiz@AKLeg.gov or calling my office.
REP. DAN ORTIZ
House District 36