33rd Alaska Legislative session begins in Juneau

The 33rd Alaska Legislature began Tuesday morning in Juneau.
Published: Jan. 17, 2023 at 6:20 PM AKST
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - The 33rd Alaska Legislature began Tuesday morning in Juneau.

As expected, education funding will be one of the major issues discussed during the session. The Senate Education Committee scheduled a meeting for Jan. 23 to hash out ideas according to Sen. Löki Tobin (D - Anchorage), the committee’s chair.

Sen. Gary Stevens was chosen as the Senate President. One idea mentioned Tuesday afternoon by Sen. Bert Stedman (R-Sitka), was adding another tier to the state retirement plan to entice teachers to move to, or stay in Alaska.

During a news conference, the bipartisan Senate Majority — which is comprised of eight Republicans and nine Democrats — spoke about its goals and expectations for the session. The biggest struggle, of course, is paying for both a large dividend and state services.

“How are we going to pay for a government that people want,” Stevens said. “I’ve asked the chairs to be bold in moving ahead and trying to solve some of these issues even if the house is not organized, we would invite them to come to our meetings, for example, education, talking about funding.”

Meanwhile, the 40-member House of Representatives remains divided, unable to pick a Speaker of the House after swearing in its members. Instead, Rep. Josiah Patkotak (I - Utqiagvik), was voted as the speaker pro tempore, and then the house recessed until Wednesday morning.

Patkotak will lead the house until a majority can organize and agree on a speaker.

With the largest group of freshmen lawmakers coming to the Capitol since 2003, many may encounter a steep learning curve. Their family members and friends crowded the chamber to show their support as the new session was sworn in.

Stedman said other topics of interest will be solving food insecurity, the Permanent Fund dividend, fuel and healthcare costs, as well as funding for the university system.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy revealed his budget plan last month which included a full statutory dividend of $4,000 to every eligible Alaskan, but the total may be lower as lawmakers determine how to fund services and keep government working. Dunleavy has also proposed a carbon monetization program as a way to bring more revenue to the state and not increase taxes.

Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom told both bodies that she and the governor look forward to working together with everyone.