We passed the constitutional 121 day limit of the regular session! However, I did not get to pack my wife and kids up to head back to Golovin to celebrate, because the reality is we have to stay put until there is a budget and a full fiscal plan. It is unlikely we will have the budget done by June 1st (since that is less than two weeks away) at which time the state will be required to send layoff notices to employees. In the worst case scenario, if we still do not have a budget by July 1st, the government will be required to shut down with only essential and skeletal services being provided. No one wants that to happen. So the Governor called us back into special session, as expected, starting May 18, to pass a budget and a full fiscal plan. During a special session, the legislature is limited to the items the Governor puts "on the call". The items on the call for the special session are:
- HB 57 - the operating budget
- HB 59 - the mental health budget
- HB 60 or SB 25 - motor fuel tax and transportation maintenance fund
- HB 111 - oil and gas production tax credits
- HB 159 or SB 79 - opioids prescriptions and database, and the Voluntary Nonopioid Directive Act
- SB 23 - the capital and supplemental budgets
- SB 26 - Permanent Fund restructuring and use of the earnings reserve
- A new broad based tax and/or increases to existing taxes to generate new revenue
The Senate Majority's plan is to reduce the PFD for all Alaskans to $1,000 and to spend down all of our savings in order to balance the budget. They have offered drastic cuts to education at all levels, to social services, and to items affecting public safety. And when they "found" an unexpected $288 million, they proposed using it to pay oil companies for tax credits. Time and again we have heard that the most regressive means of a fiscal plan would be to cut the PFD, and it will also have the deepest impact on rural Alaskans and those who are least able to pay.
I am more in line with the House Majority who do not want to reduce the PFD as much, and who do not want to cut education and other essential services, and who want to reduce the credits oil companies receive against their oil and gas taxes, and who would institute new revenues from an income tax to help pay for essential state services. An income tax is the most progressive tax and although no one wants to pay an income tax, it is has the smallest impact on low-income households. To me, this is a balanced approach because Alaskans and Alaska businesses all contribute at somewhat commensurate levels in paying for the required services provided by the State.
The Senate and House are far apart on most of this list, so we have much work to do to act on these items. It will take compromise on both sides, with neither side getting everything they want, to work through this list. I am hopeful by having a limited list to work on, we will be able to stay focused on finding agreement on a fiscal plan for the security of current and future Alaskans. I am prepared to stay as long as necessary to pass a complete fiscal plan so we are not doing this again next year, and the year after that.
Real ID Legislation Passed in Time
In 2005, the federal government passed the Real ID Act in order to further protect the United States from terrorist attacks and keep our citizens safe by heightening certain requirements. One portion of the bill has given Alaska and many other states trouble because of the new requirements for driver's licenses and identification cards. These new requirements mean our state needs to either update our ID cards to meet these requirements; or, if we don't update our ID cards, Alaskans will then need to use an alternative approved real ID, such as a passport, to be able to fly on airplanes or get onto military bases. Most other alternative real ID choices, such as a passport, are more expensive and would place an undue burden on rural Alaskans.
I've heard concerns from many constituents about what would happen if we do not have compliant real IDs. In discussions with the Department of Administration, they said a tribal ID will work as a compliant form of a real ID provided it has your name, photo, a tamper resistant security feature, and it is not expired.
We had until May 20 to pass legislation to implement the new requirements, I was happy to vote for the legislation, and thankfully the Governor will sign it May 19.
On day 120 of the legislative session, we finally held confirmation hearings on the Governor's appointments to various boards and commissions. All of them were confirmed by the Legislature, with the exception of one member to the Human Rights Commission. While this was done extremely late in the session, I am none the less very pleased we have gone through the process to give the nominees an answer to their long awaited confirmation process.
House Finance Room named for Al Adams
The legislature has passed a resolution dedicating the House Finance Room in honor of the late Representative/Senator Al Adams. I was very pleased to cosponsor this legislation to honor the long legacy of Al, he is remembered fondly for his work for the region and rural Alaska as a whole.
The Kotzebue DMV will be staffed May 22-26th as part of the Administration's effort to curb the negative impact while they are working on a permanent solution for the region's DMV needs. I am still working with the Department to ensure that the DMV does in fact stay open permanently.