Here’s the highlights from Day 113 of the Alaska legislative session. One week left.
Alaska’s last living member of the state’s constitutional convention had grand afternoon with the Alaska Legislature. He made an appearance in front of the House State Affairs Committee to testify on the governor’s proposed changes to the constitution (he’s not a fan) that drew out senators, former Attorney General John Burns and even staff from legislative legal.
He testified alongside Gordon Harrison, who writes the venerable “Alaska’s Constitution: A Citizen’s Guide.” Check out our recap of the hearing or watch it below.
Fischer then got to spend the evening with a legislative reception where Sen. John Coghill, the North Pole senator and son of the late constitutional delegate Jack Coghill, presented Fischer with a photograph of his father looking at a picture of Fischer while the two had chatted on iPads.
Dunleavy pledges not to veto K-12 funding
While everyone else in the capitol was celebrating with Fischer, Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy held a Facebook town hall where he pledged not to veto K-12 funding if the Legislature makes it available for veto.
The governor and his team have been sparring with the Legislature over the legality of the education forward funding that was passed last year, putting it out of reach of the governor’s line item veto power this year. The governor’s legal argument appeared just as he ramped up threats of line item vetoing the budget, a threat that would be difficult to deliver on when more than $1 billion in K-12 funding is off the table.
Plenty of doubt was cast on the emerging argument. A key issue is that Dunleavy had previously proposed repealing the forward funding, which essentially acknowledged the legality of the funding, He had proposed a $300 million cut to schools in his budget.
Don’t expect the governor’s pledge to change anything in the operating budget as both budgets currently leave K-12 forward funding in place and out of reach of the governor’s red pen collection.
Legislators in both chambers have stayed committed to education funding.
Permanent Fund Corporation has no position on size of transfer
Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation CEO Angela Rodell met with the House State Affairs Committee after Fischer’s testimony for a presentation on the basics of the fund and its management. The meeting reiterated some of the important fundamentals about investing: uncertainty created by the Legislature creates uncertainty for the corporation’s investors and can mean smaller returns.
Legislators asked about some of the pending discussions, like the transfer legislators are considering from the fund’s earnings reserve account to the principal of the account. The transfer would take billions of dollars out of the hands of legislators amid concerns they won’t be able to help themselves against additional unstructured draws out of the account.
The whole concept seems pretty popular, but there’s debate about just how big the transfer should be. The Senate has proposed a $12 billion transfer in the operating budget while the House is moving ahead with an $8 billion transfer via legislation.
When asked if the corporation had an opinion on the size of the transfer, Rodell said no.
“We do not have a recommendation of what should be left behind on the earnings reserve account,” she said.
Pressure continues to support ferries
The capitol steps were flooded with hundreds of ferry supporters on Tuesday as they keep up the pressure to maintain ferry funding in the budget, according to the Juneau Empire. Supporters brought personal stories to the Legislature to highlight the importance of the ferry system,
House weighs in on tribal compact
The House passed House Resolution 7 on Tuesday that urges the governor to fully implement the Alaska Tribal Child Welfare Compact that was initiated under the Walker administration. The compact gives tribal organizations greater authority and autonomy over child welfare cases in their communities.
“It is the first agreement of its kind between a state and tribal governments across the nation. It recognizes that tribes, tribal organizations and the state share in the obligation to protect the interests of Alaska Native children in the state,” said Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky, D-Bethel. “This partnership is particularly critical because of severe disproportionality that exists in our state. Alaska Native children are more likely than non-Native children to remain in foster care for extended periods of time. Roughly 3,000 children are in state custody. 1,900 are Alaska Native or American Indian, with a disproportionality rate of 64 percent.”
She also noted that reunification with families is far lower in rural Alaska and that caseworker turnover in rural Alaska is far higher than in urban locations.
The compact is expected to make meaningful changes for Alaska Native and non-Native children alike, including because it could take pressure off the overworked Office of Children Services.
Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, has been one of the most outspoken critics of the state’s child welfare system. She supported the resolution, saying that turning over responsibility to the communities and keeping children close to their communities will be integral in improving outcomes.
“Our system is totally broken, and this won’t fix our system, but what it will do is allow communities to step in and take care of their own. Hopefully before they ever reach the Office of Children Services,” she said. “What this compact will do is the first and foremost priority is that communities will have the opportunity to take care of their own.”
The resolution passed 36-1. Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, cast the lone no vote.
The resolution now heads to the governor.
What we’re reading
- With Vic Fischer-Mania running wild in Juneau, it’s worth revisiting his op-ed on Dunleavy’s proposed budget. Read: “The Alaska I helped build is under attack” via Arctic Sounder.
- The Alaska Landmine is continuing to dig through public records requests with the Dunleavy administration, uncovering a questionable contract. Read: “Bob Penney’s grandson, Clark Penney, awarded major sole source contract from State of Alaska” via Alaska Landmine.
- Wondering where the budget still stands with session? Check out this roundup by KTOO reporter Andrew Kitchenman. Read: Here are the five biggest issues to be resolved on Alaska’s state budget via KTOO.