AKLEG Day 70: Legislature fast tracks earthquake recovery money

Something might be going on in there.The Alaska State Capitol building as photographed in 2010. (Photo by Kimberly Vardeman/Creative Commons)

The Legislature had a newfound sense of urgency on Day 70 when it came to disaster relief funds while legislators also reviewed a proposal to end funding for medical education and the House continued to plug away with its budget.

Here’s what happened on Day 70.

$133 million

That’s how much additional earthquake recovery money will be made available in Senate Bill 38, which passed the Senate on an 18-0 vote Monday. The legislation is getting the fast-track treatment as state officials have warned that funding will run out by April 1.

The earthquake recovery money is a combination of federal and state money. The state general fund will pony up about $30.4 million and the feds are expected to contribute another $103 million to the recovery efforts.

The funding will be divvied up as follows:

  • $67.9 million for the disaster relief fund, which pays benefits and public assistance directly to families and businesses
  • $73.5 million to the Alaska Department of Transportation for road repairs
  • $7.9 million for firefighting efforts in the current fiscal year
  • $1 million for the Department of Labor for unemployment benefit payments

The legislation now heads to the House, where it’ll be tricky but not impossible for the legislation to reach a final vote by Monday, April 1. The House Finance Committee has already scheduled a hearing on the bill for Thursday.

In a related move, the Federal emergency Management Agency approved a request by Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy to extend the application date for earthquake recovery assistance to the end of May. The previous date was April 1. The recovery process hasn’t been without concern, however, as the Anchorage Daily News has reported that many have been frustrated because the aid is falling far short of the damage.

Legislators review proposed end to WWAMI

Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s proposal to end funding to WWAMI, the medical school program that provides in-state-priced education to students in Alaska, Washington, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, was frequently mentioned in public testimony on the budget over the weekend.

On Monday, the Senate Finance Committee held a review of the proposal with Dr. Suzanne Allen, who oversees the program for the University of Washington. Much of the meeting served as a myth-busting opportunity to tackle claims by the Dunleavy administration that the state’s not getting its moneys worth from the program.

The administration has previously provided figures that made it appear the number of students who returned to Alaska had dramatically fallen from 84 percent in 2014 to 61 percent in 2018. The 84 percent figure included students from other states who came to Alaska while the 61 percent figure did not.

Either way, the 61 percent number of returning Alaska doctors is higher than the national average of 39 percent of medical students who stay in the state where they got their degree, according to KTOO.

The elimination of the $3.1 program would mean Alaska would be the only state that doesn’t fund medical education in some way. Senators seemed keen on keeping the program in some form, but asked Allen if WWAMI would be willing to pitch in more or floated the idea of establishing an endowment program for it.

State of the University

University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen will deliver his annual State of the University address today from the University of Fairbanks’ Wood Center Ballroom. The event is scheduled between 1 and 2 p.m.  and will be live streamed at http://media.uaf.edu/. Copies of the speech and the video will be available afterwards at www.alaska.edu/pres/sou.

House budget

The House Finance Committee rolled out a new version of the budget on Monday based on the recommendations from its subcommittees. Some of the highlights include the rejection of the governor’s proposal to ship some 500 inmates out of state and an increase to the University of Alaska’s funding.

The committee also took more formal testimony from selected communities on Monday night. It will continue with a public hearing tonight from the following communities:

5:30 – 8:30 pm – Off-net sites

5:30 – 7:30 pm – Homer, Delta Junction, Glennallen, Tok, Valdez

7:30 – 8:30 pm – Fairbanks, Anchorage, Ketchikan, Sitka

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