Capitol Live: House members change offices

Capitol Live: House members change offices

The latest news from the Alaska State Capitol

4:30 p.m.

It’s hectic here at the Capitol because many representatives have moved their offices today. With the new majority forming last week, some representatives were assigned to new offices based on their committee roles and seniority. The directories do not appear to be updated yet either.

Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau, is next door to the press office now. With such convenient proximity its safe to assume the Empire reporters are OK with Story’s location change.

— Kevin Baird

3:46 p.m.

After more than two hours, this hearing finally comes to an end. Lots of questions from the representatives, but the central theme was whether this budget benefits individuals and municipalities. As with the Senate Finance Committee, they didn’t get many firm answers. Whenever Ed King presents his economic impact studies, that will be appointment television. Until then, the ramifications of the budget remain hazy.

Still, it was interesting to hear what the representatives had to say.

Someone from the back of the room to the person sitting next to them: “Were you not entertained?”

— Alex McCarthy

3:45 p.m.

Arduin continues to say that the worst thing for educational stability in the state is continuing to pull from reserves. Doing that year after year, she says, puts school districts in a bad spot.

She says the state is sending a bad message to people who are looking to invest in the state because there’s so much that changes in the budget year after year. Having a sustainable and predictable budget, she says, will show Outside investors that the state is a safer bet.

— Alex McCarthy

3:10 p.m.

Carpenter says he’s frustrated with the lack of clear answers here. He says he’d like to know that there’s some kind of end goal to this budget approach.

Arduin says the end goal of this is to balance the budget and then start to build reserves instead of draining them. The long-term vision is to provide stability, she says.

Carpenter pushes back, saying there still aren’t answers about whether this approach is a net gain for the people of the state. While it might eventually be good for the state’s reserves and budget, there’s no evidence that this is good for municipalities or individuals, Carpenter says. Arduin reiterates that OMB’s economist Ed King can provide analysis at a later time.

— Alex McCarthy

3:07 p.m.

Rep. Jennifer Johnston asks if OMB expects a legal challenge.

“There’s always a possibility of litigation,” Barnhill says.

— Alex McCarthy

3:02 p.m.

The idea of the greater good seems to be the theme of this hearing. After Carpenter asked the below question, Ortiz jumps back in and asks a two-part question. Philosophically, he asks if giving people a full Permanent Fund Dividend is worth slashing the budget so dramatically. Specifically, he asks whether OMB has done a study into whether the economic impact of a large PFD outweighs the economic impact of budget cuts.

“The governor’s belief is that the dividends are not optional and shouldn’t be part of the budget,” Arduin says, addressing the first part of the question.

“Our chief economist is doing an analysis of the overall budget and it will include the dividends,” she says, addressing the second part. Ed King is OMB’s chief economist.

— Alex McCarthy

2:56 p.m.

OMB Policy Director Mike Barnhill is being asked about Senate Bill 57, which takes oil tax revenue from municipalities and gives it to the state. Rep. Ben Carpenter asks whether this is an overall positive. It will help the state, he says, but it will hurt people at a local level.

“In the case of the North Slope Borough, it would be a very substantial disruptive impact,” Barnhill says.

Barnhill keeps saying, obviously, that there are some very difficult decisions ahead.

— Alex McCarthy

2:35 p.m.

Ortiz asks specifically about the reduction in funding to the Alaska Marine Highway System. He points out that “preserving maintenance of our transportation infrastructure” is identified by OMB as one of the state’s core programs, and asks how that fits in with cutting 75 percent of the ferry system’s funding.

Arduin says that all of the state’s departments listed their priorities and that the Department of Transportation & Public Facilities listed maintenance as a top priority but running transportation systems was not.

“Maintaining the highways fell into a higher priority than running the ferries,” Arduin says.

[Senators want more answers on marine highway closure]

“We have hopes that it can be done better,” Arduin says later. “Better, cheaper and more efficiently.”

— Alex McCarthy

2:13 p.m.

Arduin says that her office is concerned about education in the state, but she also says that the way the state has spent money in recent years still hasn’t helped the situation much. Rep. Dan Ortiz asks Arduin if she believes that cutting education funding will help the schools.

“We’re not the policy team,” Arduin says. “The outcomes that you all see in Alaska are not favorable compared to other states and not where we say we should be.”

Later, Arduin says she’s open to going back and forth with legislators to try and figure out solutions to these issues. These are just proposals, of course, and the final budget will look different from this.

— Alex McCarthy

2:02 p.m.

The House Finance Committee is now listening to a presentation from Office of Management and Budget officials. Rep. Andy Josephson asks OMB Director Donna Arduin if she’s worried about the state facing lawsuits for cuts to public education. The state has been successfully sued before about this, he points out.

Arduin says the previous lawsuit Josephson is referencing came as a result of a governor’s directive to cut funding. In this case, she says, OMB is merely making requests for the Legislature to appropriate the money in this way. Josephson asks for more clarification on that statement.

“Our proposals are proposals to you for appropriations,” Arduin says in response. “Those appropriations we would expect you to pass them in some form. We’re not directing anyone to fund or not fund anything. We’re making proposals to you.”

— Alex McCarthy

12:55 p.m.

Anchorage Republican Rep. Sara Rasmussen posted a response to the senators’ addresses on her Facebook page.

— Alex McCarthy

12:03 p.m.

With that, Sullivan’s done. He’ll answer questions from members of the media soon.

— Alex McCarthy

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, speaks to a Joint Session of the Alaska Legislature at the Capitol on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, and Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, listen from the Speaker’s desk in the House of Representatives. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, speaks to a Joint Session of the Alaska Legislature at the Capitol on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, and Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, listen from the Speaker’s desk in the House of Representatives. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

11:59 a.m.

Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake, gets the final question. All three questions went to Republicans.

Oddly, he’s wearing the same tie as Sullivan (referenced below). They have a laugh about that.

Neuman asks a winding question about selling fuel to places out of state. Sullivan gives an equally winding answer about looking to the future and how to leverage resources to help bring in money and jobs to Alaska.

— Alex McCarthy

11:53 a.m.

Rep. Josh Revak, R-Anchorage, asks about what Sullivan’s vision for veterans assistance programs in the state. Revak says Alaska has the highest per capita population of veterans of any state in the country.

Sullivan says Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie came up to Alaska recently and is interested in helping Alaska in any way he can.

“We’re going to be building up more facilities for our veterans,” Sullivan says.

— Alex McCarthy

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, thanks Rep. Josh Revak, R-Anchorage, right, and Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, for the escort into the House of Representatives for his annual speech to a Joint Session of the Alaska Legislature at the Capitol on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, thanks Rep. Josh Revak, R-Anchorage, right, and Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, for the escort into the House of Representatives for his annual speech to a Joint Session of the Alaska Legislature at the Capitol on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

11:47 a.m.

Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, asks Sullivan the same question he asked Murkowski, asking if Sullivan is working on working on an adjustment that could bring down the cost of health care in the state.

“Yes, yes and yes,” Sullivan says.

He says the Federal Medicaid Assistant Percentage (FMAP) match (the percentage of Medicaid costs that the federal government pays) for Alaska is the highest in the country and he’s working to bring that down.

— Alex McCarthy

11:45 a.m.

Sullivan wraps up by talking about his Alaskan of the Week feature where he talks about a different Alaskan every week to a national audience.

Now it’s time for a few questions from legislators.

— Alex McCarthy

11:39 a.m.

Sullivan says there need to be more resources for victims of sexual assault.

“Working together with all of you, with members of both parties…we need to re-energize our efforts to tackle this issue,” Sullivan says.

— Alex McCarthy

11:36 a.m.

Sullivan has now transitioned to talking about sexual assault in the state. He tells a story about a young girl who called into school one day to say she couldn’t come in because she had been sexually assaulted the night before.

“I knew that sexual abuse was a huge problem in the state, but there was something in that story that broke my heart,” Sullivan says, tearing up and pausing for a moment, “and steeled my resolve to work on this issue.”

— Alex McCarthy

11:33 a.m.

Sullivan says ocean pollution is also a crisis, and the “Save Our Seas” act that he co-sponsored to help clean up oceans and help coastal communities and fisheries.

— Alex McCarthy

11:30 a.m.

Sullivan hitting all the buzzword topics. He says he’s learned quite a bit recently about the state and the nation’s opioid crisis. He remembers a Mat-Su meeting a couple years ago where 500 people showed up to express their concerns about the opioid epidemic. Some people told him they thought it was a successful meeting because of the high turnout.

“That wasn’t a successful meeting,” Sullivan said. “That was a call for help. What’s happening in the country is nothing short of carnage.”

— Alex McCarthy

11:27 a.m.

Sullivan says he’s working to preserve funding for children’s health programs and community health centers (he says Alaska’s 170 community health centers are the most of any state in the country. Sullivan says he knows how expensive it is to get health care in Alaska.

He does not, however, support a “Medicare for all” plan because of the costs that come with it.

— Alex McCarthy

11:25 a.m.

Sullivan says the proposed Green New Deal is not good for Alaska. He says he, Murkowski and Rep. Don Young will fight it.

Murkowski also expressed concerns about it in an exclusive interview with us. Read that story here.

— Alex McCarthy

11:20 a.m.

Sullivan’s back on the Alaska economy. He says there used to be a loophole in the federal school lunch program that allowed Russian fish to be served. Now, he says, that loophole is closed thanks to a new farm bill.

This will be good for children and for the state’s economy, he says.

“Now American kids will be eating the best fish on the planet: Wild-caught Alaska fish,” he says.

— Alex McCarthy

11:17 a.m.

Sullivan specifically talks about “a major recapitalizaion” of Coast Guard assets that includes more ships and aircraft coming to Alaska.

There will be more fast-response cutters coming to Kodiak, Seward and Sitka, and two will remain in Ketchikan. Petersburg and Juneau will be getting “additional large Coast Guard patrol boats,” he says.

Like Murkowski the other day, Sullivan talks about more icebreakers coming to Alaska. He gives Murkowski credit for working to secure funding for more icebreakers.

“You can believe that we’re just beginning to make sure the Coast Guard is going to be very strong, very present in Alaska,” Sullivan says.

— Alex McCarthy

11:15 a.m.

Sullivan says he wants more of a military presence in Alaska.

“When you bring people here, leaders here, we sell ourselves,” Sullivan said. “Being on the ground in the most strategic place in the world makes an impression.”

— Alex McCarthy

11:12 a.m.

“I know that these are tense times for you,” he says in reference to the state’s budget situation.

Still, he’s optimistic.

“The economic dynamism and job growth that’s we’re seeing in the Lower 48 will hopefully be coming our way soon,” he says.

Reasons for optimism, he says, mostly revolve around resource development in the state. He talks about drilling in ANWR and the work on the federal level that got that opened. He says he hopes a lease sale might happen this year in ANWR.

— Alex McCarthy

11:11 a.m.

If you look closely, you’ll see Sullivan’s checkered blue tie contains the image of the Alaska flag.

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, is greeted by Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, before his annual speech to a Joint Session of the Alaska Legislature at the Capitol on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, is greeted by Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, before his annual speech to a Joint Session of the Alaska Legislature at the Capitol on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

— Alex McCarthy

11:10 a.m.

Sullivan continues to praise the current presidential administration.

“Because of policies like cutting taxes on middle-class families and businesses…the U.S. economy in the Lower 48 is firing on all cylinders with very strong economic growth,” Sullivan says.

— Alex McCarthy

11:09 a.m.

Sullivan says his addresses have become more optimistic during the Trump presidency than the Obama presidency.

With new people getting voted in and turnover in Washington, D.C., he says, he’s taking it on himself to inform new members about what Alaska has to offer.

“One of the most important jobs I have is educating my colleagues about our great state, my colleagues on both sides of the aisle,” Sullivan says.

— Alex McCarthy

11:06 a.m.

Sullivan then talks about Jack Coghill, a huge figure in Alaska political history who died last week. Big applause there.

— Alex McCarthy

11:04 a.m.

Like Sen. Lisa Murkowski two days ago, Sullivan begins his address by introducing his staff and his wife Julie. They all get a standing ovation from the joint session of the Alaska House and Senate.

“The Legislature is always so gracious. Julie always gets a standing ‘o’ and I love it,” Sullivan says.

— Alex McCarthy

11:02 a.m.

Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, is here at the Capitol and his speech has begun.

— Alex McCarthy

10:15 a.m.

A new load of House Bills has dropped now that the House is organized. Many of them are companion bills Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s Senate Bills. Here is a quick sample of some House Bills:

• House Bill 58, introduced by Rep. George Rauscher, R-Sutton, would create a new rule for electing a Speaker of the House. The bill proposes that if the House were to go 14 days without a speaker, the members of the political party with the majority would get to elect the speaker. This year the House went 31 days before electing Rep. Bryce Edgmon, i-Dillingham, as speaker. With 23 Republicans in the House right now, we would have seen Rep. Dave Talerico, R-Healy, elected speaker under HB 58.

• Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, has written HB63 that would require the lieutenant governor’s office to make a public posting whenever a state job position is created, eliminated or transferred to be classified, partially exempt, or exempt service. Hannan is a freshman legislator and this is her first bill.

• House Bill 69 was transmitted by request of Gov. Mike Dunleavy. It would repeal the Alaska Public Broadcasting Commission.

• HB 43 would exempt the state of Alaska from participating in daylight savings time. It was introduced by Rauscher.

— Kevin Baird

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