Governor’s bill would cut CFEC commissioners’ pay

Gov. Bill Walker has introduced a bill to trim the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission.

The CFEC, the state agency that manages commercial fishing limited entry permits, is a relatively small agency with an approximately $3.6 million operating budget in the final fiscal year 2017 budget. Walker introduced a set of bills in the House and the Senate on Saturday to cut $78,733 out of the agency’s annual operating budget by reducing pay for the eight positions on the commission from range 27 to range 24, according to the fiscal note attached to the bill, and moving employees from the exempt service to the classified service.

State employees are paid on a spectrum of steps within numerical ranges. As it stands, CFEC commissioners are paid between $8,289 and $9,900 per month, within range 27. Under Walker’s bills, the range would be dropped to between $7,225 and $8,569 per month.

The bill is the latest attempt from Walker’s office to reform the CFEC. An audit of the agency released in 2015 accused the agency of being inefficient and ineffective in its job of adjudicating and administering licenses. Walker signed an administrative order in February 2016 to collapse some of the agency’s functions within the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, raising a cry from commercial fishermen of conflict of interest. A lawsuit filed by Southeast Alaska gillnetter Robert Thorstensen and later joined by the United Fishermen of Alaska opposing the administrative order wound its way through the state courts last year, only to be dismissed in July.

The Legislature has tried multiple times to reform the agency as well. Two bills in 2014 would have completely dismantled the agency and delegated its authority to Fish and Game, but both failed to make it out of committee. Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, introduced another similar bill in 2015 that was also held in the House Resources Committee.

Stutes wrote in her sponsor’s statement on the 2015 bill that eliminating the CFEC would offer significant cost savings to the state by cutting personnel and streamlining the permitting process.

“In times of limited budgetary resources we need to look hard at making cuts to keep vital state services in place and I feel the bill (from 2015) will accomplish exactly that,” she wrote.

Walker’s office didn’t return requests for comment on the bill introduced Saturday. The Legislature has already run past its 90-day limit into an additional 30 days of overtime, tied up in heated debates over how to fix the state’s budget crisis.

The United Fishermen of Alaska made note of the CFEC bill in a legislative update to its members, but President Jerry McCune said the organization didn’t want to make a statement on the bill yet until after the meeting scheduled for April 26. UFA opposed Stutes’ bill in 2015, urging the Legislature to wait until there had been a full analysis of the two audits of the CFEC.

CFEC Commissioner Bruce Twomley declined to comment on the bill.

No hearing had been scheduled for the bill yet as of Wednesday morning.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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