Education reform, fiscal responsibility and more
Report from the 28th legislative session
The Second Session of the 28th Alaska Legislature has come to a close and I am pleased to be back home in our beautiful community! I am honored to represent Eagle River and to stand up for the many important issues affecting our community and the State of Alaska. Among these my focus has been on fiscal responsibility, education reform, responsible resource development, supporting our military and meaningful regulatory reform.
The legislature approved an operating budget of $9.1 billion in total funds in state services and programs. Non-formula agency operations, what most people think of as ‘state government’ operations, were reduced by $51.4 million in unrestricted general funds (UGF) from FY14, a 2.2 percent reduction. In addition, the FY14 capital budget was also reduced by $250 million in general fund spending.
Unfunded pension liabilities were also addressed during the session. Legislation was passed that will infuse $1 billion into the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) and $2 billion into the Teachers Retirement System (TRS) from the Constitutional Budget Reserve Fund (CBR). Annual pension contributions are the largest cost driver in the state’s operating budget. Injecting funds into the public retirement debt will help to reduce the average annual payments over the next ten years.
Last year we held the line; this year we turned the tide. In the years to come the appropriations of state funds must be carefully examined and a long-term fiscal plan for Alaska needs to be established.
House Bill 278 was signed into law last week. The Education Opportunity Act is a piece of legislation that opens up educational opportunities in our state. It improves charter school laws, addresses residential schools, allows tax credits for private schools, provides more STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) options in Alaska, increases the BSA (Base Student Allocation), and provides $300 million of additional funding to public schools. Although this level of funding is unsustainable in the long term, we hope that students, teachers and parents will take advantage of the many new opportunities that this bill has unlocked in order to prepare the next generation of Alaskans for successful careers.
Responsible Resource Development
During this past session the legislature worked diligently to lay the groundwork for a mega-project that will move this state closer to delivering affordable energy to Alaskans and the market. The project will create jobs throughout our state, address energy concerns, and allow the state to participate in a private-public partnership that will span for generations to come. The gasline project is a reflection of a historic moment in Alaska’s history where the state and producers have come together to address the growing concern for affordable energy.
Supporting Our Military
President Kennedy once stated, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” I have taken these words to heart. As a community, a state, and nation we should strive to create thriving communities for our veterans to enjoy. As a member of the Military & Veterans Affairs Committee, I was happy to co-sponsor legislation recognizing our Veterans (HB 69 – Vietnam Veterans Day & HCR 2 – Purple Heart State), and helping them to transition to the private sector work force (HB 46 – Waive CDL Skill Test for Certain Veterans).
Meaningful Regulatory Reform
As Chair of the Administrative Regulatory Review Committee, I introduced HB 140 last year as a freshman legislator. The great need for a transparent regulatory system in Alaska has been reiterated again and again over the past two years that I have been working on this legislation. House Bill 140 is a significant step in creating a more business-friendly climate in Alaska.
The bill will require a proposed regulation to identify the federal law, executive order, or decision to allow Alaskans a better understanding of government actions that affect their businesses and lives. The Regulation Impact Transparency Act will also ensure that regulation notices include information about estimated costs to private persons, municipalities, and other state agencies. In addition, HB 140 will open up the dialogue between individuals, stakeholders, and agencies to ensure relevant questions are answered.
The highest level of prosperity occurs when there is a free-market economy and a minimum of government regulations. The measures in HB 140 will promote increased government transparency and accountability. This legislation is currently awaiting transmittal to the Governor and will then be signed into law.
Please Contact Us
What a privilege it has been to represent Eagle River in the 28th Legislature. I am dedicated to preserving our beautiful state for future generations to come. I look forward to seeing you at the Bear Paw Festival, on the trails, at football games, and in the community. Please contact my office at (907) 622-8950 with any questions or comments you may have.