Political Pipeline: Alaska’s News Source Political Blog

The Alaska’s News Source team brings you up-to-date information on political happenings around the state
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Published: Apr. 24, 2023 at 11:06 AM AKDT|Updated: Jul. 14, 2023 at 2:47 PM AKDT
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July 14 - Sen. Sullivan has both praise and criticism for President Biden

The latest episode of Alaska’s Political Pipeline podcast hears from Sen. Dan Sullivan who just returned from the NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, and he has both criticism and praise for President Biden.

The pipeline also explores whether the PFD might run out of spendable cash for Alaskans as soon as 2026. You can listen wherever you find your favorite podcasts and, of course, here on the Alaska’s News Source website.

June 27 - State House lacks votes to call special session to override governor vetoes

The Alaska House will not open a special legislative session due to a lack of support, essentially letting the governor’s line-item vetoes stand for now.

Houser Speaker Cathy Tilton, a Wasilla Republican, said the decision was made after polling House members and discovering there was not enough support for it.

The news comes a week after Gov. Mike Dunleavy signed the Fiscal Year 2024 budget with multiple line-item vetoes, slashing hundreds of millions of dollars from the final budget.

Included in Dunleavy’s vetoes were millions of dollars that would have gone to raise the minimum funding for student costs statewide, as well as school infrastructure projects. Dr. Jharrett Bryantt, superintendent of the state’s largest school district, called the vetoes “extremely” disappointing as the Anchorage School District still faces a budget deficit of roughly $90 million.

June 14 - Jamie Heinz to replace Barbara Jones as municipal clerk

An email from Anchorage Assembly Chair Christopher Constant announced the appointment of Jamie Heinz to the role of Municipal Clerk, effective immediately.

Heinz, who previously served as Municipal Election Administrator, will replace clerk Barbara Jones, who is set to retire on June 30 following more than 24 years of service to the municipality.

“We successfully conducted a nation-wide search for the next Municipal Clerk and I’m pleased to announce that the best candidate is one of our own,” Constant said in an email. “Jamie Heinz has a proven track record of leadership in public service, right here in the Municipality and in other Alaska jurisdictions. As much as it pains me to part ways with Clerk Jones, her legacy of accessible, transparent and responsive local government lives on in the Clerk’s Office.”

The appointment of Heinz will be subject to the approval of the Anchorage Assembly, and a confirmation hearing will be held on June 23 before a special meeting is held to vote on the confirmation.

June 14 - Former state Rep. Chris Tuck files to run for Anchorage mayor

 Rep. Chris Tuck
Rep. Chris Tuck (KTUU)

Former state Rep. Chris Tuck filed a letter of intent Wednesday with APOC (Alaska Public Office Commission) to run for mayor of Anchorage. Tuck, a Democrat, served in the state House starting Jan. 3, 2009, and was the House majority leader from Feb. 15, 2021, to Jan. 19, 2023.

Tuck joins a field that includes incumbent Mayor Dave Bronson, who filed to run for reelection in November 2022, and former Anchorage Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance, who filed to run for the office last month.

The mayoral election will take place on April 2, 2024.

June 7 - Mayor/Assembly relations

The relationship between the Anchorage Assembly and Mayor Dave Bronson has been tumultuous over a couple of years — but seems to be improving.

Full story: Leaders say relations improving between Anchorage Assembly and mayor

May 18 - Budget passes on first day of special session

Only one day of special session was needed for the Alaska House and Senate to come to an agreement for the 2024 fiscal year budget.

The special session was called at the end of the 33rd Legislature’s term on Wednesday after the House failed to concur with the budget passed earlier that day by the Senate.

May 17 - Legislature to meet in special session after failing to pass budget

Just hours after the Alaska Senate passed an amended version of the state operating budget, the House adjourned Wednesday night without voting to concur on the budget and both will meet again in special session to begin at 10 a.m. on Thursday.

The governor made the call to open the 30-day special session shortly after the House adjourned. The call is limited to discussions of HB 39, the bill that defines expenditures of the 2024 fiscal year budget.

May 17 - Budget passed by Senate, waiting for House to concur

Members of the Alaska Senate approved an amended operating budget on Wednesday afternoon with a 17-3 vote.

The House will still need to concur the budget, and is currently in closed-door meetings.

Click here to read about the Senate’s final day in regular session.

May 17 - Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness says new COO will handle Zaletel duties

Meg Zaletel announced she is taking a medical leave from her job as executive director of The Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness (ACEH) until Aug. 1. She is also taking a leave from her duties on the Anchorage Assembly until July 11. ACEH announced today that it has hired Jessica Parks as its new chief operating officer. Parks, along with Terria Ware, senior director of policy and system planning, will take over Zaletel’s duties until Zaletel returns. Parks has served as Homeless Prevention and Response System Advisory Council chair. ACEH says her deep knowledge of federal, state, and local policy was a prime consideration in the decision to hire her.

May 16 - Legislature nears end of regular session

The race is on for lawmakers in Juneau as the regular legislative session is scheduled to come to a close at midnight Wednesday. The Senate and House floors convened Tuesday to take up a number of bills still circulating in the capital building.

May 16 - Zaletel announces medical leave

Anchorage Assembly Member and Executive Director of the Anchorage Coalition to End Homelessness Meg Zaletel on Tuesday announced that she will be on medical leave from both positions. She will return to the Assembly on July 11 and the ACEH on Aug. 1.

“I’ll be using this time to heal and connect with my family and loved ones,” Zaletel said in the release. “I believe it’s important to acknowledge when it’s time for a break, especially after the turbulent times our community has seen over these last couple of years.”

May 15 - Senate passes governor’s carbon offset bill

With just two days before the end of the regular legislative session, the Senate on Monday passed Senate Bill 48, which would monetize the process of preserving state land to help offset greenhouse gas emissions released in other places.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy pushed for the bill and has voiced support for it on multiple occasions, including this year’s State of the State speech in Juneau.

The bill outlines the process for the state to make money from the carbon that exists naturally in the state, as well as from human production. The process of carbon monetization and sequestration involves removing carbon from resources such as oil, gas, and timber, and making the sale of these energy sources much more valuable. It’s already proven to be a financially rewarding process by local tribal organizations and in the Lower 48.

The bill now heads to the state House for a vote. If passed there, it is expected to be signed into law by Dunleavy.

State Senate passes governor's carbon offset bill

May 11 - House passes bill allowing use of gold, silver as legal tender

On Thursday the House passed a bill sponsored by Big Lake’s Kevin McCabe that would allow residents of Alaska to use gold and silver as payment for some debts.

In a press release, McCabe said HB 3 “is a critical step in securing our state’s economic future and protecting the rights of our citizens under the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution”.

Opponents of the bill are concerned about how entities who choose to accept gold and silver would maintain up-to-date value lists, as well as the ability to deposit those assets.

After passing by a 25-15 margin, the bill moves on to the Senate.

May 9 - Judy Eledge resigns

In a two-sentence news release, Mayor Dave Bronson announced the resignation of his Deputy Library Director Judy Eledge. Her last day will be May 15.

The Anchorage Assembly was scheduled to discuss a resolution at Tuesday’s Assembly meeting calling for Eledge’s resignation. Critics have accused Eledge of treating library employees unfairly and of using racist language against Alaska Natives.

May 9 - Suzanne LaFrance files to run for Anchorage mayor

Suzanne LaFrance files to run for Anchorage mayor

Former Anchorage Assembly Chair Suzanne LaFrance filed a letter of intent Monday with APOC (Alaska Public Office Commission) to run for mayor of the municipality. LaFrance decided not to run for re-election to the Assembly, but would not divulge what her plans were.

Now, it seems, the plan is to run next year for the office currently held by Dave Bronson.

May 8 - Senate passes airbag safety legislation

As part of a nationwide effort to increase standards surrounding airbag safety in the United States, the Alaska Senate passed SB 37 on Monday, which would make it a felony if the installation or reinstallation of counterfeit airbags that don’t meet safety standards lead to an injury or death.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, called counterfeit airbags “highly dangerous” and pointed to airbags that have been left empty or even filled with sawdust or newspaper.

“Counterfeit airbags may improperly deploy, or not deploy at all,” he said on the Senate floor on Monday afternoon. “Senate Bill 37 establishes the crime of airbag fraud for knowingly selling, installing or manufacturing a counterfeit or non-functioning airbag.”

According to Claman, the legislation will make it easier for counterfeit airbags to be seized and will help stop them from being imported.

With a unanimous vote, SB 37 is now on its way to the House for consideration and could be voted on later this year. The regular session is set to end in less than two weeks.

May 5 - Postpartum Medicaid bill passed by legislature

The Alaska legislature passed Senate Bill 58 Friday, a bill that was pushed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy in February.

The legislation extends postpartum Medicaid coverage for new mothers from 60 days to 12 months. Currently, 51% of births in Alaska are by a mother eligible for Medicaid.

SB 58 seeks to improve maternal health by preventing gaps in health care coverage, maternal mental health, and child health outcomes.

More: Gov. Dunleavy’s reaction to bill that he pushed

May 3 - State budget forecast, Bronson settlements discussed in latest Political Pipeline podcast

Pretty much everyone in Juneau now agrees the state needs a new way to pay for things and the governor and legislative leaders from both parties and both houses got together to talk about potential solutions at a news conference. But there is still no definitive agreement and a special session is a real possibility.

We also examine proposed settlements from the Bronson administration to a couple of contentious personnel matters. The dollar figure for the settlements top $800,000.

Listen to Alaska’s Political Pipeline anywhere you listen to podcasts, including by clicking on the podcast tab on this website.

May 2 - House State Affairs Committee hears testimony on bill that would repeal ranked-choice voting, eliminate open primary

Alaskans weighed in on House Bill 4 on Tuesday in the first hearing on the bill that would repeal the recently-implemented ranked-choice voting system used in the 2022 General Election.

Co-sponsor Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, said during the hearing that HB 4 does differ from HB 1 — also a bill that seeks to dismantle the RCV system — but only minutely, pointing to a section that joins the race for governor and lieutenant governor. Her hope, she said, is to see “which one rises to the top.”

If passed, HB 4 would also eliminate the open primary. The bill would keep provisions banning so-called “dark money,” or money with undisclosed sources such as funding from outside states that has unidentified origins.

Proponents of the bill, who are against the RCV format, cited confusion around open primaries and the system itself. Opponents of the bill, who are largely in support of RCV, maintain that the system is a way for more voters to end up with a winner they support in some capacity.

Outside of testimony taken Tuesday, House State Affairs Committee Chair, Rep. Laddie Shaw said extensive public comment has already been sent in.

The bill is now being held for a future hearing. Monday at noon is the deadline for lawmakers to formally submit amendments to HB 4 for consideration.

May 1 - Senate advances SB 107 for House lawmaker consideration

The Senate pushed SB 107, a bill focused on the Permanent Fund and annual dividend, through to the House on Monday.

SB 107 aims, in large part, to answer the question of what share of monies earned by the Permanent Fund should be used for the PFD versus how much of the money that can be tapped should go toward state services. While something needing to be done is not a topic of debate, what exactly the next steps should be is certainly a contentious topic, and not only between parties but within them.

The 75-25 split, which is as it stands in the Senate legislation, would allocate 75% of an annual draw from the Permanent Fund to state services and leave the other 25% for the PFD, amounting to a payment to qualifying Alaskans of around $1,300 this year.

The Senate moved SB 107, a piece of legislation that focuses on the PFD, to the House on Monday.

The House, however, has already passed a budget featuring a 50-50 split. This would include a roughly $2,700 payout this year, and it is clear that SB 107 — which passed in a 12-7 vote on Monday — is facing an unfriendly body in that chamber, with lawmakers having classified the bill as “dead on arrival.”

While lawmakers have expressed intentions of avoiding a special session, the final day of the regular legislative session is May 17.

April 27 - Legislator, governor acknowledge future fiscal fight

Gov. Mike Dunleavy and legislative leaders say there’s a need for a long-term fiscal plan for the state, but are uncertain how to reach that goal.

At a press conference held Thursday, the governor and members of the legislature could agree on only one thing — they are united in acknowledging that Alaska has a fiscal problem that has to be fixed.

“We are not here today to make an announcement that we have agreed upon a whole host of issues or a complete plan,” Dunleavy said. “But what we are here to tell you is that the scuttlebutt that you’ve been hearing, the discussions you’ve been hearing, has all been part and parcel of trying to get to this point.”

Several members of the Alaska Legislature also admitted there is a financial problem and had their say on ways to solve it.

Full story: Alaska’s leaders agree on state’s fiscal condition

April 27 - Governor and GOP legislative leadership holding news conference this afternoon

Gov. Mike Dunleavy and a group of Alaska legislators plan to talk about the need for the state to come up with a long-term fiscal plan. It’s unclear if the governor plans to unveil details of his expected sales tax proposal during Thursday’s event, which is scheduled for 1 p.m. in Juneau.

Senate President Gary Stevens, House Speaker Cathy Tilton, House Minority Leader Calvin Schrage, and other members of the Alaska Legislature are expected to attend.

April 26 - Mayor Bronson may put a couple of contentious legal issues behind him

The Anchorage Assembly will meet on May 5 in an executive session to hear details about proposed settlements in the cases of two fired municipal employees.

Former City Manager Amy Demboski threatened to sue and the former director of the city’s Office of Equal Opportunity, Heather MacApline, did file a lawsuit against the municipality. The Bronson administration added more than $800,000 to its budget to cover the settlements, but it is not clear how the money would be allocated. The settlement will also still need to be approved by the Assembly.

Read the full story: Settlements in works for 2 fired Bronson administration employees

April 26 - Gov. Dunleavy still plans to put a state sales tax before the legislature

Despite having only about three weeks left in the regular state legislative session in Juneau, Gov. Mike Dunleavy still intends to submit a bill to create a state-wide sales tax. Dunleavy’s spokesman, Jeff Turner, told Alaska’s News Source in an email that the Dunleavy administration is now working on the sales tax proposal and intends to submit it to the legislature sometime before the current session ends.

Turner says while Dunleavy understands the time crunch, the governor thinks committee work could begin immediately once the bill is completed.

April 26 - New operating budget released by Senate Finance Committee

The Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday introduced a substitute bill for the operating budget that features a permanent fund dividend of about $1,300 based on a 72-25 split formula, and a one-time, $175 million education funding payment that’s roughly equivalent to a $680 increase to the Base Student Allocation.

This follows Senate Finance introducing its version of the capital budget earlier this week, which includes $30 millioni for school maintenance and $32 million for the University of Alaska’s capital needs.

April 26 - House Education Committee passes governor’s ‘Parental Rights Bill’ out of committee

Changes to a hotly-debated bill have been made following hours of emotion public testimony both in favor of and against House Bill 105, with a substitute version of that bill passed out of the House Education Committee on Wednesday morning.

The legislation would, in part, change requirements regarding parents being informed about their children’s education – in particular, sex education and information about their children’s gender identities.

Multiple amendments to the bill were considered on Wednesday, and in the end, a substitute version included several changes, such as a provision requiring parents receive notification for all activities, classes or programs at least two weeks in advance; a requirement that would make it so parents must grant permission for names, nicknames and pronouns the school would use for identification and records, and allow full access to all records; and a section that would demand access to single-occupant facilities such as restrooms and locker rooms, as the bill bans gender nonconforming students from using bathrooms that match their gender identities.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy and others have maintained that the bill would protect parents’ rights to oversee their children’s education, but state law already protects parents’ rights to review curriculum and remove kids from any class or activity, and many of those against the legislation have said the potential law puts LGBTQIA+ kids at risk.

The next step for what is now CSHB 105 is to move to legislative legal, and eventually head to the House floor.

April 26 - Anchorage election results certified

The official results of Anchorage’s April 4 regular and concurrent special election have now been certified.

With a turnout of 27.96% of registered voters casting 131,531 ballots, officials say the number of voters is in line with previous mail-in only elections.

For 17 candidates competing for seven seats on the Anchorage Assembly, incumbents held strong in District 1 with incumbent Chris Constant securing a win over John Trueblood and Nick Danger. Felix Rivera, who currently holds a seat in District 4, was re-elected over contender Travis Szanto. New additions to the Assembly include District 2′s Scott Myers, District 3′s Anna Brawley, District 5′s Karen Bronga and George Martinez, and District 6′s Rachel Ries.

School board incumbents Dave Donley retains and Andy Holleman retain their seats.

Full results from the municipal election can be found below.

April 25 - House, Senate press for balance between PFD, education funding

There are only a few weeks left in the legislative session in Juneau and members of both the state House and Senate are speaking on some of their progress and priorities as the May 17 deadline approaches.

Rep. Dan Saddler called the 33rd legislative session “productive, orderly and very busy.”

But there’s still much to be done, especially when it comes to big-ticket items such as the budget, education — including the Base Student Allocation — and the Permanent Fund Dividend.

The House already passed a budget with a 50-50 dividend, but members of the Senate are eyeing a 75-25 split, and not everyone is able to agree to it. Big Lake Rep. Kevin McCabe said the 75-25 split would be “very difficult for me to compromise on.”

A one-time $175 million increase to education funding has been settled on by the House but it still leaves open the question of how much the BSA and dividend will require.

While McCabe saId there hasn’t been much discussion within the Ways and Means Committee over contingencies tying the BSA to the size of this year’s PFD, the Senate has already made adjustments to its proposed allocation, dropping the increase from $1,000 to potentially $500, as it eyes a skinnier capital budget and a new dividend formula.

“We are constrained by our revenue, and we the Senate want to live within that,” Sen. Bert Stedman said. “And we’re going to negotiate with the House and try to come up with a balanced budget ... the best budget we can do.

“But I’ll tell you one thing we will not do, and that’s hand an unfunded budget to the governor. It’s not going to happen.”

The House Majority and Senate Majority spoke on progress and priorities at two separate press conferences on Tuesday.

Stedman said the Senate has learned from previous years in finding a budget that will align with revenue streams like oil prices. Stedman cautioned in creating a budget that relies on rosy forecasts for the price of a barrel of oil, saying they want to avoid withdrawing from the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve Account or Constitutional Budget Reserve.

“A year ago, at this time, there was testimony that oil was going to be by the moon, and we wouldn’t have to worry about it,” Stedman said. “Well, it turned out it wasn’t at all. And we came here in January and were worried about getting through this current fiscal year without adding extra or having to have a draw on the CBR.

“So we’re trying to be cautious, but meet all our basic needs plus deal with the near emergency needs and some school systems, frankly, emergency needs of our school system.”

April 25 - State Supreme Court affirms decision on ‘unconstitutional’ voting district maps

For the second time in a little more than a year, the highest court in Alaska concluded that proposed redistricting maps in Eagle River and South Anchorage are unconstitutional, ruling on April 21 that a proposed redistricting map in Eagle River is unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering — essentially drawing political districts in a way that benefits or undermines a political party’s representation.

In Friday’s ruling, the Alaska Supreme Court further clarified that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional under Alaska law. The 144-page decision includes strong language against the Alaska Redistricting Board’s efforts to combine Eagle River’s Senate district with parts of Anchorage, writing that the board “engaged in unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering to increase one group’s Senate district voting power at the expense of others.”

Read more: Alaska Supreme Court explains ruling against redistricting board’s alleged gerrymandering

April 25 - Check out our political podcast: Alaska’s Political Pipeline

All episodes can be found on the homepage under the podcast tab. Our latest episode examines Anchorage’s municipal elections (and results are expected to be certified today). We also explore the PFD and educational spending plans facing the Alaska State Legislature in Juneau and the latest comings and goings in the Bronson administration. Some key jobs are being filled. Click here for the latest episode.

April 24 - House lawmakers discuss education funding

With just three weeks left in the regular legislative session, lawmakers are making a push toward a decision on education funding for school districts across the state.

Multiple meetings inside the capitol on Monday focused on students and schools, starting with a hearing in the morning closing testimony on House Bill 105, the so-called “parental rights” bill proposed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy. The next hearing on that piece of legislation has been set for Wednesday.

A House Finance Committee meeting in the afternoon centered in large part on the Base Student Allocation, the amount of money provided to school districts by the state on a per-student basis. The Senate has already discussed a $1,000 increase to the BSA, but the House has not yet settled on any number, and talked extensively about how changes to the BSA might affect other costs such as Permanent Fund Dividend payouts.

Three scenarios, among the many options with which lawmakers could move forward, were shown to lawmakers Monday:

  • The first scenario includes a $1,500 PFD, a $680 BSA increase, and a $400 million capital budget, a number Senate Finance has used for some of its modeling. That would leave a $56 million surplus, and if the S corporation provision — potential revenue from the subchapter S tax provisions included in SB 114 — that number rises to $246 million.
  • The second scenario has a deficit before the subchapter S provision, and includes a $2,000 PFD, a $540 BSA addition, and $403 million for the governor’s capital budget, leaving a deficit of nearly $130 million unless the subchapter S provision is included. That would lead to a $60 million surplus.
  • The third scenario has lower amounts for other costs but a higher PFD. It includes a $400 BSA, a capital budget of nearly $191 million, and the 50-50 PFD — totaling about $2,700 per person — already passed by the House. The deficit in this case would be around $420 million, unless the subchapter S provision is included, in which there would still be a deficit of about $230 million.

There were also questions during the hearing about the preciseness of data from the state. The Department of Education said it only has information from the end of the most recent fiscal year, as is required by law. It also said that when it comes to COVID relief funding, about $237 million — which expires in September of 2024 — has not yet been requested by districts.

The Senate Education Committee also met on Monday to take public testimony on SB 56, centered on the Alaska Performance Scholarship and eligibility; SB 120, on education tax credits; and SB 132, on employment taxes for education families.

This session is set to hit the 121-day mark in mid-May.

April 24 - Food stamp woes worsen Alaska hunger

Thousands of Alaskans who depend on government assistance have waited months for food stamp benefits, exacerbating a hunger crisis laid bare by the pandemic, inflation and the remnants of a typhoon.

The backlog began last August and is especially concerning for residents in far-flung areas not connected by roads. Food is shipped in by barge or airplane and costs of basic goods are often exorbitant.

Around 13% of the state’s roughly 735,000 residents received food stamp benefits in July, before the troubles began.

The state is scrambling to fix its slow response and has provided $1.7 million to get emergency relief to the most isolated villages.

Read the full story here: ‘People are suffering’: Food stamp woes worsen Alaska hunger

Source: Associated Press

April 20 - Senate Finance Committee hears public testimony on state budget

The Senate Finance Committee is hearing public testimony on the state budget, to include the fiscal year operating budget, capital budget and mental health budget.

Thus far, the Senate’s priorities have been have largely focused on education funding, which could include a $1,000 boost to the Base Student Allocation, and bolstering certain pension plans.

Continued public hearings are set for Friday, beginning at 9 a.m.

April 20 - Anchorage Police Department press conference

Anchorage Police held a press conference on Thursday where they responded to reporter questions about the delay in implementing body-worn cameras for officers.

April 18 - Alaska Senate working to close budget gap with House on PFD, education


Alaska Senate working to close budget gap with House on dividend, education funding
Alaska Senate working to close budget gap with House on dividend, education funding

With education funding and the Permanent Fund Dividend still a work in progress, the two sides are closing the gap, but conceded in a press availability Tuesday in Juneau that there is still some distance to close. Read the latest from Joey Klecka here.

April 17 - Check out the latest episode of Alaska’s Political Pipeline podcast

Click here to check out the latest episode of Alaska’s Political Pipeline: Mayor Dave Bronson lost a key employee, but gained a couple as well. His spokesman says progress is being made on filling other positions.

Plus, there’s just about a month left in the legislative session in Juneau. What’s up with the PFD, education spending and ‘parental rights?’ And ... Albania.

Alaska's Political Pipeline
Alaska's Political Pipeline(KTUU)