Things to think about as session gets underway: MEMO

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

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Deep Breaths

Good morning, Alaska! It’s finally snowing in Anchorage, Drew Brees has likely thrown his last pass in the NFL and the Alaska Legislature is still without organization in either the House or Senate with just a day to go to the start of the 32nd Legislature.

On that last front, I don’t have a whole lot more information to report beyond what I talked about in Friday in the Sun—which is to say it’s all very up in the air with suggestions ranging from the pragmatic to laughable—so let’s talk about something else, specifically what’s at stake in this legislative session. There’s the budget, the PFD, the pandemic response and a whole host of legislative priorities like police reform, election reform and Sen. Peter Micciche’s alcohol law rewrite, which is up for its fourth session. 

First, it’s going to be important to temper expectations for what is doable in the next 90-121ish days. The pandemic is still looming over the building—the Capitol got its first notification of a case in the building on Friday—and I’m told that there’s not a heckuva lot of interest in hanging around much longer than needed. No one wants to get sick and much less get sick while waiting around for organization. (And then there’s the fact that first halves of sessions are rarely all that productive as freshmen learn the ropes.) 

Second, we’ve largely treated the question of the budget/dividend and the organization (Ah shoot, here I am talking about organizing again) as separate issues when they’re anything but separate. A friend has frequently reminded me of the words of former Ruby Republican Sen. John Sackett, who wisely said, “How you organize determines the outcome.” (This also was in context of impeaching Bill Sheffield, but hey.) With the pressure of the pandemic, getting it right is more important than ever.

Third, we’ve frequently framed the discussion about the state’s financial future as “PFD vs. revenue vs. state services” when it’s always been far more complicated than that. I’ll save the specifics of the budget for another time, but I think it’s most illuminating to look at what’s at stake for rural, coastal and Bush legislators (who’re the core of the bipartisan coalition and also the likeliest members to be targeted by Republicans to bring over) and their districts.

They’re coming into a session where critical services like the Alaska Marine Highway System, Village Public Safety Officers, Power Cost Equalization and a whole host of others are being eyed by Republicans as an “easy” route to continue with cuts. 

I found Rep.-elect Josiah Aullaqsruaq Patkotak’s interview with KOTZ Radio’s Wesley Early to be particularly enlightening on this case. For him, it’s about balance. 

“I stand for a healthy PFD payout, but it has to be at the same time striking a balance with the critical infrastructure and services we provide as a state to not only all of Alaska but specifically rural Alaska. I don’t want to jeopardize those critical services on the back of the PFD,” he said. “It’s wise as a legislative body to look at ways that we can strike that balance without shooting ourselves in the foot for the long run.” 

On the agenda

9:00     Legislative Budget & Audit — OCS audit release; LB&A contract for public opinion polling; special audit request for CARES Act Grants and Alaska Railroad Corporation; several RPLs

1:00     Legislative Council — Three contract approvals, including one for a remote voting system (interesting!); updates to the building’s covid policies; update on security and lawsuits

2:30     House and Senate Therapeutic Courts Task Force — Approve Final Report: Task Force Evaluations & Recommendations

Comic: Vaccine Scavenger Hunt

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