Legislators meet with the public on the upcoming year

Published: Dec. 11, 2019 at 8:00 PM AKST
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Just hours before Governor Dunleavy released his budget from Juneau, members of the legislature met with the public to have conversations about challenges and ways to overcome them in the next year at Commonwealth North’s luncheon with legislators event.

The speakers leading the discussion Monday were House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, and Senate Majority Leader Cathy Giessel, R-Fairbanks.

The theme throughout the luncheon was about bipartisanship, and meeting each other halfway for the betterment of Alaska. Edgmon and Giessel reminded the room of their differences on the party aisle, but how they try to work together.

Major topics they talked about were focused on sustainability, highlighting that Alaska isn’t making the money it has in the past from the oil industry. Both said they agree that continuing to give full PFD’s does not sustainable for the future of the state.

“I advocate for a responsible permanent fund dividend, responsible budget, and not overspending, in a way that I think would be detrimental to Alaska’s future,” Speaker Edgmon said.

“If we were to do another $1,600 PFD with the current projections for revenue and expenses that we have, we would have about a $900 million deficit,” Sen. Giessel said, “We need to have a serious discussion about this and Alaskans need to think about how they are contributing to their state.”

Problems with the PFD and how the state needs to rethink how it’s given out weren’t the only challenges these leaders in congress discussed today.

Issues with funding in other areas were also of major concern. Sen. Giessel brought up how the legislation is going to be looking into new ways to fund education.

“We are going to be looking at some other income streams,” she said, “Education head tax. Many of you paid that five dollars on your first paycheck that went into education. Senator Clint Bishop has introduced a bill that would reinitiate that, an education tax at $30 on your first paycheck.”

Sen. Giessel also highlighted Alaska’s low motor vehicle fuel tax at eight cents a gallon, she said Senator Bishop again introduced a bill doubling that. Additionally, she talked about how an education raffle could raise around a million dollars.

Her bottom line on education was that the state legislature is going to take a harder look at promoting how they fund it as the second highest budget next to the PFD.

Speaker Edgmon brought up some other issues that they are going to be focusing on toward the end of his remarks.

He listed things like the importance of PFAS chemicals as an issue of environmental conservation, sending prisoners outside of the state, dealing with higher crime rates by helping with substance abuse problems, and a spending cap.

These were all things that they and other legislators foresee though. Which was essentially the point of the luncheon to provide a bipartisan platform for discussion.

After they were done addressing the room, they joined a number of other legislators who were rotating tables talking to the people who came to the Dena’ina center to talk on a more personal level.