Legislative priorities include education spending, PFD resolution

Differences in perspective and party aside, lawmakers are feeling optimistic
Published: Jan. 16, 2023 at 7:38 PM AKST
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - Consensus often eludes lawmakers when tough decisions are on the table, but that’s exactly what legislators from both parties say is their goal.

With dozens of bills already pre-filed, legislators are headed to Juneau to begin the 33rd Alaska Legislature.

Sen.-elect Cathy Giessel is a member of the bipartisan majority coalition which formed ahead of the session in the Senate, while the Alaska House of Representatives has yet to organize. Giessel said she is optimistic about working with Gov. Mike Dunleavy to tackle issues such as the uncertainty of education funding and the Permanent Fund dividend.

“We had a great conversation with him,” Giessel said. “He is very open to what the Senate is going to propose, and we of course are optimistic that the House will be joining us in these priorities.”

Dunleavy recently proposed the highest Permanent Fund Dividend in state history, following up on a record payout in 2022. Sen. Bill Wielechowski and others expect that number might change. Conversations about the PFD often surround how much to spend on the dividend, and how much will go to paying for state services.

“We’re going to have a robust discussion on what the dividend amount should be. Once again, we’ve have had that every year and hopefully this is the year we come to a solution on that issue,” Wielechowski said. “Alaskans want some stability, they want consistency, and I think they deserve that, and hopefully we can come up with some sort of solution that we can all agree on.”

Education will be another priority of the legislature and Dunleavy administration.

“Teaching and recruitment is a big deal,” Giessel said.

Representative Mike Cronk is a retired teacher from rural Alaska, and after 25 years in classrooms, Cronk felt that there was room for improvement in the ongoing discussions regarding the matter.

“I don’t think there’s enough focus on our students,” Cronk said. “There’s focus on wages, and retirement, and all this stuff but we’ve lost our focus, because our students are what we are there for.”