Survey: Lawmakers predict what session will bring

Everyone wants to know what the second session of the 29th Alaska Legislature will bring, but no one knows the answer. Well, no one outside the 60 members of the Legislature, that is. To get the best insight into what this session will bring, the Empire e-mailed a simple three-question survey to all 60 legislators on a Monday during the interim. Fifteen lawmakers — 25 percent of the Legislature — responded by our deadline. Their full answers are reprinted below.

Sen. Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage

Q: How should the state fix its budget problems?

A: First step — stop looking for magic bullets. We can’t tax people and business or cut services enough to bridge the gap. We have to remind ourselves how it happened that we became a state — we pointed out to Congress that we were rich with resources that would be carefully managed to support ourselves.

We must recognize that change is a daily event and we are now in a new era. We need to answer two questions: What size of government do we want? How will we pay for the government that we want?

Until we agree on the answers to those two questions, it’s difficult to arrive at a positive solution.

Q: Other than the budget, what is your biggest priority for the session?

A: Alaska LNG

Q: What will be the biggest surprise of the session?

A: If I knew that, it wouldn’t be a surprise!

Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak

Q: How should the state fix its budget problems?

A: What I expect is to have some nonpartisan unity in the Legislature working all toward the same goal.

We have some starting points the governor has laid out. We need to put aside our personal agendas … and come together as a unit and say, “Let’s get this addressed.”

I don’t believe that we can solve the budget problem without generating revenue of some sort. How that’s going to be done, I don’t know. It’s going to take some input from the people.

Q: Other than the budget, what is your biggest priority for the session?

A: The ferry system. Absolutely, the ferry system is my No. 1 priority. We need solid, reliable, dependable ferry service. In my opinion, that means we need some solid scheduling. The ferry needs to be forward-funded and we need to have a static schedule two years in advance.

Q: What will be the biggest surprise of the session?

A: I don’t have a clue. I just hope that whether it be the Senate or the House or both, that we can work together as a whole on the budget. It’s going to require give and take.

* Rep. Stutes was the only legislator to reply via phone instead of email.

Rep. Shelley Hughes, R-Wasilla

Q: How should the state fix its budget problems?

A: Aim for efficiencies and trim, trim, trim to sustainable amount as proposed by ISER over two years. After earnings reserve funds are set aside for PFD checks and the inflation-proofing of the Permanent Fund, use remaining interest earnings to close the gap not covered by existing revenues. If essential services that impact the life/safety of Alaskans are truly not adequate at this point, go back to the drawing table to consider other revenues. The goal is to keep money in the private sector so it can remain strong while we right-size government; we don’t want to prop up the government sector only to send the private sector into a tail spin and crash landing.

Q: Other than the budget, what is your biggest priority for the session?

A: In addition to keeping communication lines with my constituents open, working toward a strong future for Alaska will be my priority after the budget: making sure opportunities for Alaskans continue, whether that’s ensuring the state has the expertise it needs for its share of the AKLNG project or looking ahead to infrastructure needs and new economic sectors, whether that’s working to restore the appropriate balance between the federal government and state government so Alaska can realize more of her potential, or whether that’s addressing issues for Alaskan families to promote safe and prosperous communities – a strong future for Alaskans will be my focus.

Q: What will be the biggest surprise of the session?

A: I’d love the surprise to be that we can wrap up the session in 90 days. Oil revenue climbing back up would be a welcome surprise too, but I’m not holding my breath for that! I actually see this year and the next few years as great opportunities for us to work together and make improvements. We’d gotten a bit spoiled and bloated in our times of plenty, and I choose to view our time now as a blessing in disguise.

Rep. Bob Herron, D-Bethel

Q: How should the state fix its budget problems?

A: Do not discard an budget option before it is considered.

Q: Other than the budget, what is your biggest priority for the session?

A: Public health and public safety legislation.

Q: What will be the biggest surprise of the session?

A: Political courage.

Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage

Q: How should the state fix its budget problems?

A: The Institute of Social and Economic Research has identified that an additional cut of $1 billion in General Fund dollars (which has been proposed by some legislators) would result in the pink-slipping of 9,000 Alaskans, including ripple-effect job loss. That is a recipe for a recession while, at the same time, making the quality of Alaskans’ lives more burdensome. I could never support such a thing.

Some legislators assert that the state of Alaska should only do those things it is constitutionally required to do. This is more problematic than it might sound. For instance, Article 7, Sec. 4 requires us to provide for the Public Health to include its protection and promotion. We cannot just abdicate these important responsibilities.

I believe that progressive models for reform should be entertained by the legislature. This means, for example, that as a general principle, any revenue measures should impact the affluent more than the middle-class or the poor. Obviously, some revenue measures are inherently more equitable. A dividend cut is the least equitable potential measure. It does not impact tourists and it does not impact seasonal or many oilfield or other shift workers.

Finally, I cannot support any revenue measure until such time as I am confident that (1) either existing oil and gas tax credits are having their desired effect, or are suspended; (2) without revisiting the MAPA vs. ACES debate, the oil industry is paying a reasonable amount of severance tax; (3) consideration be given to changing the corporate income tax to a separate accounting model; and (4) consideration be given to increasing mining severance taxes.

Q: Other than the budget, what is your biggest priority for the session?

A: Related to the budget, I believe I am duty bound to preserve vital programs for the Alaskan people. Last June, for instance, my caucus was instrumental in: (1) honoring the Parnell administration employees’ contracts; (2) restoring millions to a gutted ferry system budget; (3) increasing the number of front-line social workers; (4) “keeping the promise” relative to public education through the Base Student Allocation; (5) keeping commitments to senior citizens through continued modest assistance payments; (6) restoring funding to a gutted University of Alaska budget; (7) providing for additional, if limited funding for APRN; and (8) making sure we avoided tying nationally for last place, by continuing our limited pre-K funding.

These needs will not just disappear because we have a budget problem. Each helps ensure opportunity, fairness, and a robust economy.

I am always interested in “smart development” of our resources. This means serving as a booster for AKLNG, which I am in the extreme. On the other hand, it means challenging projects that do unreasonable harm to one of the greatest remaining natural environments on Earth.

Finally, it is my job to “screen” bad legislation, champion good legislation, and push my own policy perspectives through my own bills. I intend to continue to do all three things.

Q: What will be the biggest surprise of the session?

A: I believe that the Alaska public might see more “profiles in courage” than one might expect, particularly relative to our budget situation. I believe that the good citizens of Juneau can expect to see us in their community well into the late spring and early summer, largely because of the AKLNG commercial agreements and the budget predicament. Finally, on the negative side, I believe we may see a xenophobic response to both the unfortunate terror we saw in Paris, and more recently in San Bernardino. I intend to “mark” that history as I need to with a reflection of the better side of our angels.

Rep. Cathy Munoz, R-Juneau

Q: How should the state fix its budget problems?

A: It will take a combination of steps to solve Alaska’s budgetary problems. It is important that we work toward a sustainable spending level while also utilizing excess earnings of the permanent fund, reforming oil and gas tax credits and possibly increasing the minimum tax on gross oil revenues. Through an on-line survey and many conversations, my constituents are showing a preference for the use of revenues from the reserve fund and reduction in oil credits before the implementation of broad based taxes.

Q: Other than the budget, what is your biggest priority for the session?

A: A major priority of the legislature will be to get a constitutional amendment on fiscal certainty for a gas project to the voters in time for the next general election. In addition to the overarching issues of the operating budget and fiscal certainty, I am working on personal legislation to address a long-standing local land exchange issue, as well as AIDEA financing authority for Juneau Hydropower to construct the Sweetheart Lake hydroelectric project which will serve Juneau and the Lynn Canal region.

Q: What will be the biggest surprise of the session?

A: Getting done in 90 days would be a most pleasant and welcome surprise!

Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak

Q: How should the state fix its budget problems?

A: Avoid having to decrease funding for education and attempt to keep it as level as possible.

Q: Other than the budget, what is your biggest priority for the session?

A: As chairman of Legislative Council I hope to find a resolution to the Anchorage LIO issue.

As for fixing the budget problems, we need to continue cutting the budget where we can while at the same time begin vigorously exploring and discussing revenue enhancement available to us for the future.

Q: What will be the biggest surprise of the session?

A: The biggest surprise of the session would be if we are able to get all our work done in 90 days and do not need any special sessions this year.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage

Q: How should the state fix its budget problems?

A: You could unwisely and reflexively fire 12,000 state employees and take buying power away from businesses — to cut only half the deficit. And you’d cause a recession if you played sound bite politics. We need to stop spending on mega and unaffordable projects, and choose a plan that is fair to Alaskans, not just the wealthiest Alaskans and large businesses which want to focus on cutting the dividend while leaving major loopholes in our corporate and oil tax systems. Let’s face it, for business leaders pushing PFD cuts as the solution, the PFD means less than it does for someone who can’t afford adequate clothing for their kids. That’s a privileged person’s plan, not a reasonable balanced plan.

Q: Other than the budget, what is your biggest priority for the session?

A: Without balance, and just a focus on things that hurt working class Alaskans the hardest, the public will not join in a solution. As Jay Hammond often said, first you get a fair share for your oil, which if my, Senator Wielechowski’s and democratic bills had passed in 2014 and 2015, would have raised over $500 million to $2 billion by now to help ease the deficit while being fair to our oil industry partners at the same time.

Q: What will be the biggest surprise of the session?

A: The biggest welcome surprise would be if legislators who have blocked meaningful oil tax reform to allow that, instead of just focusing on cutting law enforcement, basic needed state functions and a plan that favors those with the most to contribute, who want the biggest burden to hit others. With open minds and compromise, that surprise can become reality.

Rep. Sam Kito, D-Juneau

Q: How should the state fix its budget problems?

A: The only way we will be able to fix our budget situation is to work together. There are many paths to take. The only certainty is that doing nothing is not an option for our future or the future of our children. The reality in Alaska today, is that we are borrowing 3 billion dollars a year to pay for our critical and necessary state services, and we have 9 billion in our primary savings account. The least we should do is to extend our savings a few years. The best we can do is to set the path to a completely sustainable budget within three years.

Q: Other than the budget, what is your biggest priority for the session?

A: Of course the budget is the most critical task we can address this session, and so many other issues are ultimately tied to the budget. I would like to see additional attention to pre-k in our state. I would like to work on decreasing healthcare costs for Alaskans. I would like to see positive changes in public safety so they Alaskans will feel safe in their homes.

Q: What will be the biggest surprise of the session?

A: Predicting the future is best left to fortune tellers and mystics. My best hope for the upcoming session will be that we all agree on a path forward to resolve our looming budget crisis.

Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham

Q: How should the state fix its budget problems?

A: Everything needs to be on the table, including budget cuts and new revenues.

Q: Other than the budget, what is your biggest priority for the session?

A: As a rural legislator, the basket is full of issues.

Q: What will be the biggest surprise of the session?

A: That it ends on time.

Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka

Q: How should the state fix its budget problems?

A: Pending mathematical magic, a combination of revenues and cuts, cuts and revenues.

Q: Other than the budget, what is your biggest priority for the session?

A: Infusing innovation, good, clever ideas — big, small, or subtle — into state of Alaska government.

Q: What will be the biggest surprise of the session?

A: I wish I knew!

Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Anchorage

Q: How should the state fix its budget problems?

A: Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet to solve the budget issues. It is going to take a lot of frank discussions between the legislature, the administration, and Alaskans. The legislature will continue to identify areas of government we can cut and where we have the potential to increase revenue, as well as leverage our assets.

Q: Other than the budget, what is your biggest priority for the session?

A: While my main focus will be on the budget, like any session we will tackle some serious reform issues – that in-turn will likely reduce the budget in the long-term. A few examples are criminal justice reform and Medicaid reform. I also expect to see more conversations surrounding the legalization of marijuana and the state’s role in regulating and structuring that industry.

Q: What will be the biggest surprise of the session?

A: I think the biggest surprise to most people will be seeing the real budget numbers and what they mean for Alaskans. Recognizing how low the price of oil is and as a result how little revenue we bring in will be shocking to some. Additionally, seeing how little revenue an income tax generates relative to the significant deficit.

I am hopeful that the biggest surprise will be the willingness, cooperation, and collaboration that will take place in the legislature. We all recognize the issues we are facing and we may not all agree on how to solve them; however, I believe we will work well together to prioritize our needs, reduce our expenditures, and find meaningful solutions to our budget situation. At the end of the day we all share a common goal — provide a safe and stable state for Alaskans.

Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks

Q: How should the state fix its budget problems?

A: There are formulaic drivers in the budget that cause it to grow every year. They are found mostly in employee costs, health care, and education. If they are not dealt with then we are really not dealing with the budget. Any advances we make in reductions or in revenues will eventually be overwhelmed by these recurring costs.

*Sen. Kelly did not provide an answer to the other two questions.

Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin

Q: How should the state fix its budget problems?

A: The burden of the state’s budget needs to be shifted off of the backs of those who have low income. I believe an income tax or industry tax would shift that burden to be shared by all.

Q: Other than the budget, what is your biggest priority for the session?

A: The AKLNG project. We just spent a special session allocating the money to move this project forward, we are invested and I want to see this project continue to move forward.

Q: What will be the biggest surprise of the session?

A: What will be most surprising will be who will not be coming back after the next election.

Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks

Q: How should the state fix its budget problems?

A: There is no ONE thing that will fix the budget but it will need to include: sacrifice, contributions, efficiencies, and working together … everyone.

Q: Other than the budget, what is your biggest priority for the session?

A: Besides the budget all else pales, but energy and healthcare come to mind.

Q: What will be the biggest surprise of the session?

A: $25 oil … and being done before May 1.

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