Lawmakers have had to stay on their toes this week. They’ve been working in the 24 hour rule meaning that bills only need a 24 hour notice to be heard in a committee. Normally, it has to be scheduled the week earlier. When I talked with Senator Dennis Egan of Juneau, he said they had been dealing with another sort of challenge.
Egan: “Our Internet just went down. I mean for the whole Legislature.”
Angela: “How can you function?”
Egan: “Yeah. Seriously, Angela. Everything we have is on computer.”
Well, that problem came and went. But there are a lot of issues that still need to be worked out before the Legislature adjourns.
Egan: “Days are pretty long right now just because of the complexity of this session here. We have the gas line legislation and education is a big issue this year and neither of those bills are complete. And of course, we haven’t completed finalized the operating or capitol budgets yet.”
Angela: “Now, you’re mandated to come up with a budget. The budgets are something that you have to do but the bills you don’t have….
Egan: “We don’t have to do. But if we don’t do anything for education, um, school districts from just unorganized school districts too, municipalities are really going to suffer. We have to get an education bill passed this year.”
Angela: “So, what’s the hang up right now?”
Egan: “Well, the hang up right now is BSA.”
Angela: “Base Student Allocation.”
Egan: “Yes. And how we fund that. You know, the governor has a modest increase in the base student allocation. I think it’s the will of most members of the Legislature to increase the base student allocation. Problem is now there are certain members and House members that don’t want to put it in the formula, they want to keep it out and just give communities more education money…but it would be one time money. It wouldn’t set the level of the base student allocation any higher. I have trouble with that because we haven’t increased the BSA now going on five years and it’s about time that we add some more money in there just to keep up with inflation.”
Angela: “Okay, now in terms of the budget, how do you feel about it at this point?”
Egan: “I think it’s looking pretty good for District P. You have almost a million-8 ($1.8 million)…I can’t look it up. (laughs) You have almost a million-8 ($1.8 million) for waste water treatment. And then of course, the three million fed and state match for the airport apron and taxiway. And then we got a million dollars for the public safety building. And there are words in there that Crystal Lake Hatchery will be rebuilt right now out of Fish and Game funds and SRF funds and things like that, but the state has guaranteed that they will rebuild the Crystal Lake Hatchery.”
Angela: “So that could happen this building season then.”
Egan: “Yes it will. Or, we hope it will, yes.”
Angela: “Do you feel like there are any other last minute changes that might happen with the budget or is it pretty sealed?”
Egan: “Well, this is the horrible part: it changes on a daily basis. And, I think we’re in good shape right now. And it’s not a done deal.”
Angela: “Just in general, how would you say this session is turning out to be compared to others in the past?”
Egan: “Well, it’s been difficult, I think there are too many issues and a lot of other issues that don’t really pertain, at least, as far as I’m concerned, in running a good state system. You know, we have minimum wage on the ballot this year. The House, as you know, passed Legislation to usurp the initiative and do it legislatively. Well, that happened in 2002 and the next year the Legislature came back and gutted it. And I don’t think there’s a lot of interest in the Senate to do minimum wage this year. I think we’re of the ilk that we just let the voters vote.”
Angela: “So that’s still a possibility anyway.”
Egan: “Yeah, and then we have the other cool issues like marijuana and (laughs) and so that will be interesting.”
Angela: “It will be an interesting election this year.”
Egan: “And then repeal of the gas line legislation from last year, Senate Bill 21. That’s an initiative and that will be on the ballot. If we continue the legislature beyond the normal end date, beyond normal adjournment, then that would force the “No on 21 Initiative” to go on the general election ballot instead of the primary ballot.”
Angela: “How do you feel that might affect the outcome?”
Egan: “I don’t like the idea. I think that we can get out of here by Sunday. I mean there’s a lot of legislation that can wait a year. We should get the big stuff done.”
I also spoke with Representative Sam Kito III, a Democrat from Juneau. He said a big issue the last few days has been education, particularly putting $3 Billion dollars into the PERS-TERS trust. That’s the public employees and teachers retirement trust.
Kito: “It goes into the trust fund so it’s not really spent yet but it pays down our future liability to a certain degree which means we’re saving money on interest that we would be paying on in the future. And we are also decreasing our annual payment that the state will have to put in to try and try to match our actuarial…the amount that we’re under funded. So, that’s going to be a really big spend for the state and that’s going to be coming out of the constitutional budget reserve, I believe, which is basically one of the state’s savings accounts. So, we’re already spending a little bit out of savings. There are some possibilities that maybe we spent a little bit out of savings for capitol projects as well but we won’t really know until we see a CS come out of the finance committee.
Angela: “And that reserves savings account, if I remember correctly, is well over ten Billion dollars?”
Kito: “There are two accounts. The two accounts total up to somewhere around 17 Billion dollars. There’s the constitutional budget reserve account and then the earnings reserve account. There are tax credits in there for private non-profit schools that give me some concern about public money going into schools where the state doesn’t have adequate oversight. We don’t actually get to identify curriculum for private schools or measure results from private schools. So, I have a concern about that. And that was in the House bill when it left the House and I don’t know what the Senate’s going to do with that but we’re watching closely.”