FEBRUARY 26, 2016
Representing District 17:
Midtown, University, and East Anchorage
I Answer to You!
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716 W 4th Ave, Room 412
Anchorage, AK 99501
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Governor Bill Walker
EMAIL: Gov. Bill Walker
Senator Dan Sullivan
EMAIL: Sen. Dan Sullivan
Senator Lisa Murkowski
EMAIL: Sen. Lisa Murkowski
Congressman Don Young
EMAIL: Rep. Don Young
Budget Close-Outs & Public Testimony
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
This has been a busy week full of meetings and there is much to tell you. Before I do, I want to commend the House Resource Committee Chairs on their dedication to hearing the Governor’s oil and gas credit and mining tax bills and holding sometimes two meetings a day. These are very complex issues and each hearing I feel like we learn something new about these industries and these credits. There will be an opportunity for public comment on both bills in the near future. I will be sure to keep you all informed about when that is.
On another topic, congratulations to the UAA Women’s Basketball team on claiming back-to-back GNAC crowns! You make us all proud! My office and I will be cheering for you from Juneau.
This week House Finance Subcommittees began closing out their individual department budgets and passing their recommendations onto the full Finance Committee. This year, the goal of budget subcommittees is to find cost savings within each department. Last year, the Legislature cut approximately $400 million from the operating budget and $400 million from the capital budget, a total of $800 million in cuts. I worry that some cuts may go too deep and lead to a recession. I spoke about that issue today on the house floor. You can listen to it here.
I serve on the University of Alaska, Department of Law (Office of the Attorney General), Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) subcommittees. Cuts to the Law budget (which I opposed) will mean that it will be closing its Dillingham District Attorney’s Office, which will join Barrow as another major rural community without a DA’s office. I worry that closing these offices, particularly in a time where we are seeing rising crime in the state can have very adverse effects on a community’s ability to properly administer justice. Further, the Governor wanted the creation of a Public Integrity Unit. It would oversee public corruption, prisoner deaths, and use of force issues from our police officers. The subcommittee rejected those additions, too, unfortunately.
In the Department of Environmental Conservation Subcommittee, I stood up to protect the Drinking Water program which benefits communities around the state, both in urban areas like Anchorage and in rural villages. Originally, the Subcommittee Chair suggested a $258,000 further reduction in this program. I quickly realized, however, that this reduction would cause the state not to be able to meet matching requirements for receiving federal funding. If the state is unable to match the federal grants, then we may lose the ability to implement our own permitting systems under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Federal control of these permits in the past has caused high cost to industry. With these arguments, the Subcommittee Chair agreed and withdrew her reduction and the Drinking Water Program funding remained!
The University Subcommittee went less smoothly than the others. The Governor’s budget called for a $14.3 million dollar cut to the UGF (undesignated general funds—our “checkbook”) funds of the University system which, while less than ideal, was something the University was more able to handle while going through a time of restructuring. Instead the Subcommittee Chair proposed a cut of $62.5 million as a “starting point”. A cut of that size in one year could have devastating consequences. At the beginning of our close-out meeting on Wednesday, the Chair announced that she would increase the UGF funding but only by $12 million resulting in a $50.5 million cut, an amount I would still describe as absolutely devastating to the University. Representative Wool and I both offered amendments that would have added funds back into the University budget, making it mostly “whole”. I am very disappointed with how this process worked out and some of the things that were said by the members. I can only hope that funding is returned in either the full Finance Committee or in the Senate.
Monday was the last day for legislators to file personal legislation for the 29th Legislature. I took the opportunity to introduce three more pieces of legislation.
HB341 is a repeal of the Alaska Statutes Civil Codes’ prohibition on the court considering public interest motivations in the determination of fee awards and whether a party should pay a bond. It aims to return to the court the authority to decide issues of fee awards and bonds merely under the guidance of Civil Rule 82 and jurisprudence. Further, it intends to allow ease of access to the courts by plaintiffs bringing questions of genuine public interest.
HB342 seeks to honor the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodgesand recognize the constitutional right of same-sex marriages by removing prohibitive language in the Alaska Statutes. Further, just as the constitution affords all people a fundamental right to define their families, HB 342 protects this right for LGBT spouses and parents by changing language in the current law.
HB343 aims to give shareholders of businesses incorporated in Alaska a vote in whether the corporation can make political expenditures. This bill is in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United which gave corporations unlimited political spending power under the auspices of the right to free speech and corporate personhood.
Public Testimony Opportunity
Starting next week the House Finance Committee will begin taking public comment on the Operating Budget. This will be a great opportunity to comment on aspects of the budget that you like or dislike. Anchorage has its own dedicatedtime slot on Wednesday. If you are unable to make it to the Anchorage LIO or would prefer to give written testimony you can send your comments directly to the House Finance Committee via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below is some information the Finance Committee has provided about public testimony. Please contact my office if you have any questions.
Wednesday, March 2, 2016
HB 256-APPROP: OPERATING BUDGET/LOANS/FUNDS
HB 257-APPROP: MENTAL HEALTH BUDGET
1:00 – 4:30 pm* Anchorage
Public testimony limited to 2 minutes each.
• Please arrive 15 minutes prior to the end of the allotted time period or testimony will close early.
• If you are a member of a group with the same message, in the interest of time, please select a spokesperson to testify for the entire group.
Join me this Saturday, February 27th, from 11am to 2pm at the Assembly Chamber in the Loussac Library, for the Anchorage Caucus Public Hearing. The Anchorage Caucus is made up of representatives and senators who represent the Anchorage, Girdwood, and Eagle River areas. The public hearing is a good opportunity to share your thoughts and concerns with Anchorage legislators and speak about the budget, the Legislative Office Building, or other issues that are important to Alaskans.
What: Anchorage Caucus Public Hearing
When: Saturday, February 27th from 11am-2pm
Where: Assembly Chambers, Loussac Library (3600 Denali St)
As always, please call or email with any thoughts, ideas, or concerns.
I Answer to You!
Representative Andy Josephson
State Capitol Bldg., Room 430