Legislative Update: 3/12/12

Crumbs for Schools

Last week, the House Finance Committee held hearings for the operating and mental health budgets.  In Juneau, numerous parents filled the committee room pleading for increased education funding, each parent sharing agoniz­ing stories about the proposed cuts in their district.  Towards the end of the hearing, one mother wasn’t able to control her tears and fled the committee room, leaving her statement behind.

The next day, the Governor announced he would support an increase of $30.3 million for targeted increases in fuel and pupil transportation, partially as a result of the public testimony for additional funding.  In a press release, the Governor maintained that he wanted a public discussion about cost in­creases and what school money was buying, yet he sidestepped the issue when pressed by a school board member in Petersburg during an interview last month.  There are now just five weeks left in the session.

Initially, the Governor’s announcement was good news until it began to sink in that the $30 million increase wasn’t $30 million from last year, but from FY 10, amounting to approximately a 1% increase.  And it is one-time funding, throwing school districts into the same situation next year.

SB 171, legislation passed early this year to provide modest increases for each of the next three years, is in (H) Finance.  There are no hearings scheduled this week for the bill.

Schedule of Upcoming Hearings

Monday, March 12

(H) Education                        Education Standards by Dept of Education

(H) Resources                        HB 325 Coastal Management Program
Sponsored by Rep. Alan Austerman (R-Kodiak), HB 325 restores the Coastal Management Program which sunset last year after messy special sessions.  In the dead of winter, the Alaska Seaparty collected more than enough signatures from every district in the state to place the measure on the ballot.  This measure does not say if the employees would be classified or exempt, leaving it up to the Division of Personnel should it be signed into law.  The Governor has said it should now be up to the voters.

(H) Labor                   HB 275 Retiree Benefits: Colorectal/Drug Benefits
Sponsored by Rep. Bob Lynn (R-Anch), RPEA was initially very interested in the bill but after further review, has some concerns.

(H) Finance                HB 252 Income Tax Exemption

Tuesday, March 13

(S) Finance                SB 160 Capital Budget – includes University of Alaska

(H) Finance                HB 284 Operating Budget
The version of the budget for the committee’s consideration contains the following:

  1. Funding for all six APEA/AFT bargaining unit contracts negotiated with the state or the University of Alaska
  2. $640 million towards the unfunded liability within PERS/TRS, the minimum amount owed
  3. No increase to the Base Student Allocation but the Governor may ask for $30 million to pay for fuel and pupil transportation costs
  4. Cuts to the Regent’s request submitted to the Governor but look for Rep. Fairclough (R-Anch) to submit amendments to restore some of the priorities.

The operating budget could come to the floor for a vote as early as Wednesday.

(S) Labor                    SB 217 Pharmacy Audits

(S) Finance Subcommittee Department of Education – Closeout

(S) Finance Subcommittee Department of Corrections with an Update on Goose Creek Correctional Complex Progress and on the Fairbanks & Bethel Facility Expansion Projects.

Wednesday, March 14

(H) Education                        HB 256 Repeal state Intervention in Schools

(S) Education                        SB 197 Grant Program for Schools

(S) Finance                SB 192 Oil and Gas Production Tax Rates
The first of many hearings on tax breaks for the oil industry begins with a presentation by the Department of Revenue.  If you can’t listen or watch, read everything you can on the issue.  Writers with an especially keen insight include Pat Forgey of the Juneau Empire, Dermot Cole with the Fairbanks Daily News Miner, and the online journal The Alaska Dispatch.

(H) Labor                   HB 292 Princip & Inc/Probate/Retirement

Thursday, March 15

(S) Finance                SB 192 Oil and Gas Production Tax Rates

(H) Transportation   HB 102 Suspending Motor Fuel Tax
Sponsored by the Governor, this bill suspends the $.08 a gallon tax on gasoline for 2 years.  The fiscal note from the Dept of Revenue predicts a loss to the general fund of $38,800,000 for FY 13.  Monies are typically allocated to highway construction and maintenance, docks and harbors.  Suspension of the motor fuel tax will also impact municipalities which collect aviation fuel tax and result in a loss of revenues.

(S) Labor                    SB 116 Workers’ Comp; Collective Bargaining; Mediation

Friday, March 16

(H) Education         Confirmation Hearing: University of Alaska Board of Regents

Discussion of Proposed Language State Education Standards

SB 137 Suicide Awareness and Prevention Training for

School Personnel sponsored by Senator Bettye Davis

(S) Education                        Confirmation Hearings –

Professional Teaching Practice Commission

UA Board of Regents

(S) Finance                SB 192 Oil and Gas Production Tax Rates

(Below: US Sen. Mark Begich with State Reps Berta Gardner & Beth Kerttula in Juneau last week.)


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