State education spending and the possibilities for an Alaska gasline are top priorities for the minority leader of the Alaska House of Representative going into the legislative session later this month.
Democrat Beth Kerttula of Juneau represents Petersburg, Kupreanof, Gustavus, Tenakee and Skagway, along with her hometown.
In 2013 she called the first session of the 28th legislature the “worst ever” and thinks the upcoming session is going to be a tough one.
“We’re going in looking at $2 billion in deficit. That doesn’t mean we’re out of money. It means anything but that but it does mean a lot of the discussion this year will be about fiscal plans and about how we’re gonna go about spending and not spending maybe more importantly,” she said. “And of course we’re going to spend a lot of time arguing about the oil taxes although there probably won’t be any movement on them. That’ll all wait for the referendum and that’s when people vote in the primary.”
Kerttula has backed the effort to repeal the oil tax reform bill passed by the Legislature last year. Voters will decide that issue in the August primary.
Meanwhile, the state budget picture and future state funding for education looks to be one of the big issues in the upcoming session.
A Republican-led House sustainable education task force came out with recommendations at the end of last month. It said current state spending levels need to be reduced. The task force recommended that Alaskans should be made aware that current education spending is not sustainable.
Kerttula wants to see more money put towards the classroom.
“It’s not all about money obviously, but we’ve been sliding on education. Especially not even keeping up with inflation and that hurts the classroom,” she said. “We’ve been putting money towards things like transportation and security but you know at this point we really need to face the fact that we need to be looking at the classroom itself. So I think there will be a lot of focus on that.”
The former oil and gas attorney also expects to see progress on a natural gas pipeline project this session.
“And while we don’t always think about that in Southeast, it could be a huge benefit to Alaskans overall. And the real key to it is that there’s a possibility that Alaskans may have a seat at the table and have an ownership involvement in it. So I’ll be very focused on that, it’s a really exciting opportunity, Devil’s going to be in the details in how it all works out,” she said.
Kerttula was the prime sponsor on seven bills last session – all remain in one House committee or another. Those bills range from one that seeks to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation to a measure re-instating a pension option for public employees and teachers.
“I’m really thinking this session is not going to have a lot of personal bills going through. I think it’s really going to be a bigger debate about the overall budget and spending.”
Kerttula will be running for reelection in the fall.
Because of redistricting she won’t be representing Petersburg, Kupreanof or Tenakee after this session. If she’s reelected her new district would include Haines and several other small Southeast communities.
The second session of the 28th legislature starts Jan. 21 and runs through April 20th.
Hear what other Southeast lawmakers want to happen during the session:
More links will be posted as reports are produced.