Dan Robinson, the chief of research and analysis for the Department of Labor, is currently presenting about statewide economic trends at the Capitol. Robinson’s outlining four main points about the state of the economy in Alaska:
• We’ve been losing jobs since October 2015
That’s 39 straight months. Robinson says oil and gas jobs have suffered the most, as there are 4,900 fewer jobs in those industries than there were in 2015.
• More people have left Alaska than have moved here for six straight years
Robinson says the state’s population has declined 35,000 in those six years. Though the recession in the 1980s was much worse (Robinson says the state lost 35,000 people in just two years then), Robinson says it’s notable that this loss has happened six years in a row. That’s never happened in Alaska as long as records have been kept, he says.
“Population loss and economic vitality rarely go hand-in-hand,” he says.
• Alaska’s economy has been weaker than the U.S. economy and all 49 other states for the last three years
Robinson points out that oil states (such as Wyoming and North Dakota) have had a rough patch, but they’re having a better time rebounding from their recessions. Robinson said 93 percent of state recessions last less than three years. Alaska has surpassed that now.
• There are regional differences in employment and population numbers, but in important ways, we’re all in this together as a state.
Robinson said this is an unusual case. There are areas of growth in the state, such as tourism, and that the Department of Labor projects a “moderate increase” in jobs in 2019. We’ll probably get more into that projection later.
“Much of what drives our economy is out of our control,” Robinson says.
— Alex McCarthy
A deeper look at the Senate Finance Committee hearing this morning, looking in particular at Finance Director David Teal’s statement that continuing to balance the state’s budget with savings is “a death spiral”
— Alex McCarthy
Senate Bill 35 is one of the four bills that Gov. Mike Dunleavy introduced today. It would update the criminal code in an effort to crack down on sexual assault or other crimes of a sexual nature. Here’s some of the changes it proposes:
• It would classify unwanted contact with semen as sexual contact and make it punishable as a sex offense.
• A person commits the crime of harassment if they repeatedly send unsolicited images of genitals to another person.
• Solicitation of a minor would be a felony in all circumstances.
• A person convicted of producing or viewing child pornography would be required to register as a sex offender.
• It would clarify prison sentencing ranges for sex offenders
• It would require out-of-state sex offenders to register in Alaska. In some cases, a sex offense conviction in another state does not have an equivalent crime in Alaska. As a result, a small number of sex offenders are not required to register here. Deputy Attorney General John Skidmore said this makes Alaska “attractive” to some sex offenders who would not have to register here. This bill would close that loophole and require all out of state sex offenders to register, regardless of congruency between state laws. “We don’t want to encourage people to move here because they do not have to register,” Skidmore said.
• A person would be prohibited from soliciting sexual favors and enticing a minor using any form of communication.
“Under current law, it is illegal to entice or solicit sexual acts from a minor via computer,” reads a memo from Dunleavy. “However, as technology has advanced, means of communication is no longer limited to a single device. The method of communication should be irrelevant.”
— Kevin Baird
Gov. Mike Dunleavy followed up his State of the State Address by unrolling four bills that he hopes will reduce crime in Alaska.
“The No. 1 priority of this administration is public safety,” he said during a press conference this morning. “And it’s really the No. 1 priority for all Alaskans. It is the No. 1 job for any governor in any state to make sure the people of their state is safe.”
Alaska has seen a dramatic increase in crime during the last five years. According to the Department of Public Safety’s uniform crime report, the overall crime rate has increased 26 percent during the last five years. Violent crime is up 35 percent and property crime is up 23 percent during the same time period.
— Kevin Baird
Juneau’s legislative delegation — Sen. Jesse Kiehl, Rep. Sara Hannan and Rep. Andi Story — are speaking at a Native Issues Forum at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall.
The three legislators are talking mainly about budget, crime, education, fishing and the Alaska Marine Highway System. There were around a hundred people at the event, including Assembly member Loren Jones and University of Alaska Southeast Chancellor Rick Caulfield.
In regards to Gov. Dunleavy’s statement in his State of the State last night that he will bring “war on crime,” Hannan says she is glad public safety is at the forefront of discussion but also adds, “I’m saddened it took property crimes to bring focus to the idea that Alaskans have been unsafe in their homes for generations.”
One question from the public asked how a war on criminals would impact Alaska Natives. A member in the public who asked the question notes that Alaska Natives are disproportionately targeted in the criminal system, saying a war on criminals might equal a war on Alaska Natives.
Kiehl responded by saying, “If we want to address crime, let’s address crime. But to declare war on people, I think takes Alaska in a very dangerous direction. The approaches that we think of when people talk about ‘war on criminals’ don’t save us any money.”
— Mollie Barnes
David Teal, director of the Legislative Finance Division, brings a word of caution after Office of Management and Budget Director Donna Arduin’s presentation.
Arduin talked about simplifying the budget process. As you might have heard in last night’s State of the State, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said he wants to have a budget that the average person can comprehend. Teal urges members of the Senate Finance Committee to not gloss over details as they figure out where to cut and where they can collect revenue.
“I’m all for simplification if the simplification helps you make decisions,” Teal says. “But your decisions will be a lot easier to make, and better, if you understand your fund sources.”
— Alex McCarthy
Dunleavy’s budget team expects to take as long as possible to release its budget plan, Office of Management and Budget Director Donna Arduin says.
During a presentation to the Senate Finance Committee, Arduin repeatedly said to expect Dunleavy’s budget to be released Feb. 13. The governor has 30 days from the start of legislative session to release a budget plan, and Feb. 13 will be the 30th day of session.
If you’ll recall, Department of Revenue Commissioner Designee Bruce Tangeman said the same thing yesterday before backtracking afterward and saying that the budget could come sooner. Arduin isn’t leaving much room for doubt, repeatedly telling senators to expect a budget on Feb. 13 instead of before Feb. 13.
“Specifics will be available on Feb. 13,” Arduin says of the budget.
Arduin says that one of the guiding principles for putting the budget together is asking departments to “do less with less” instead of asking them to do more with less money. She said her office is currently identifying each department’s core mission and figuring out if that department’s expenditures match up with that core mission.
Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, chair of the committee, says this morning’s meeting will be more about the process behind putting the budget together and not about the specifics of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget. Based on Arduin’s presentation, it seems OMB is going to be carrying a large amount of the load in this. Stedman says near the end of the presentation that he wants to make clear that the Senate Finance Committee and both sides of the Legislature will still play vital roles in the process, and that he wants this process to be as open and transparent to the public as possible.
Arduin says she’s worked for seven governors in six states, often helping states cut their budgets.
— Alex McCarthy
Last night was Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s first State of the State address, where he made big promises to crack down on crime and restore the Permanent Fund Dividend.
He proposed three consititutional amendments to fulfill those promises, but some lawmakers said afterward they were hesitant about solving the budget deficit through amendments.
Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, said she does not think constitutional amendments are the appropriate place to be laying out the state’s fiscal plan.
Senate Democratic Leader Rep. Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, released a press release after the speech saying he was encouraged that Dunleavy has promised to protect the PFD and create a permanent fiscal plan, and is looking forward to seeing Dunleavy’s budget proposal that “fulfills his promises.”
“For our state to truly address crime, support a strong education system, maintain the health of our citizens, and create hope and opportunity, we need a budget that meets our constitutional obligations,” Begich said in the press release. “I hope his does.”