Four Kenai Peninsula legislators noted accomplishments on an education bill, natural gas pipeline project and reform on public employee and teacher retirement plans among other highlights from the 28th Legislature during a joint chamber luncheon Tuesday at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
Sen. Peter Micciche R-Soldotna, Reps. Kurt Olson R-Soldotna, and Paul Seaton, R-Homer, and Speaker of the House Mike Chenault, R-Nikiksi, shared an overview of their efforts in Juneau during a session that ran five days over. Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, was unable to attend due to an Arctic Policy Commission meeting.
Seaton said House Bill 278, the Education Opportunity Act, was a big piece of the legislative puzzle.
“We went over time but we did so because it’s much more important to pass things correctly than to do them quickly,” he said. “I hope everyone understands getting things done right is important.”
Micciche said he was pleased with the compromises made between the House and Senate to pass the education bill. He said $300 million funding over the next three years was much needed and he supported the increase to the Base Student Allocation.
Chenault said the second session started off fast and furious with a lot of bills in play and never slowed down. The capital budget ended up being the largest the state has ever passed and a big reason for that was the $3 billion put toward the PERS/TRS plan to address the debt liability for future generations, he said.
Chenault said he worked with Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Mike Navarre on capital projects and secured $4 million for road improvements.
Chenault said the operating budget ended up being less than what Gov. Sean Parnell proposed. With education being the second highest component of the state budget behind health services, he said raising the BSA was a crucial component because expenses go up.
Micciche said reductions to the operating budget were made carefully with a financial scalpel, with the right cuts made.
Another of his priorities is to reduce the decline of North Slope production and development an LNG project while also preserving the Alaska’s natural beauty.
“Let the world know we are open for business while still maintaining the quality of life services and continuing to preserve our pristine environment,” Micciche said. “It is proven we can have both adequate employment and industrial opportunities while still making sure we keep our natural resources healthy.”
Micciche said he was proud of Senate Bill 71, a landing tax for fisheries, because it balances out the tax credits for certain salmon and herring and affects all user groups equally.
“Our fisheries are under constant attack by folks around the state,” he said. “I think you have a unified front with the four of us trying to defend all the fisheries.”
Olson said the House introduced 382 bills and 115 either made it out of the House or to the governor office while the Senate had 219 bills introduced with 75 that moved out. In addition to the education and gas bills, he devoted much of his time to passage of workers’ compensation reform.
Olson said he received more comments for his work to eliminate the automatic delivery of the white pages than anything else he did this year.
“We found out 90 percent of people in the state didn’t want them,” he said.
As for the bills that did not pass this session, such as a measure for smokefree workplaces, Micciche said he has received a lot of good dialogue from both sides on those issues and the topics will be addressed when the next session gavels in.
Chenault said he is always interested in getting rid of outdated legislation as he is about creating new laws.
“We should get rid of statutes that don’t work anymore,” he said. “There is not much glamour in it but it cleans the book up.”
After a few questions, each legislator was given 30 seconds for their final remarks. Chenault, the usually talkative speaker of the house summed up his thoughts with one word, “Thanks.”
Reach Dan Balmer at email@example.com.