While the legislators in the Majority Caucus were encouraged to hear a different tone from the governor, the question of the PFD still looms large. Many of the governor’s proposals required some kind of funding but the state doesn’t have the money to do any of those things, especially if there’s a large PFD payment.
“Our target as a caucus is to pay the dividend we can afford,” says Rep. Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage, not settling the dividend question will muddy the waters of any other discussion.
In the House Speaker’s Chambers, members of the House Majority caucus are meeting with the press.
Edgmon says that it was nice to hear a different tone from the governor, and that it seemed that Dunleavy had been listening to Alaskans.
But while the governor made a lot of proposals, the elephant in the room was the budget and the PFD, said Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome. The budget presented by the governor included a $1.5 billion deficit in the form of large PFD payments.
Many of the governor’s proposals required spending, Rep. Jennifer Johnston, R-Anchorage, said, and she wonders where that money will come from when the state is still looking at further cuts.
It’s time to put aside partisan politics and get what needs to be done, done, Dunleavy tells the legislature before wrapping up his speech. Reducing bureaucracy, incentivizing private industry and exploiting the state’s mineral wealth were the main points of the governor’s speech.
House Speaker Bryce Edgmon and other members of the House Majority will be holding a press conference shortly.
The state has a moral obligation to educate its youth. But too many of Alaska’s students are not reaching acceptable educational outcomes. Dunleavy says that he has instructed members of his staff to investigate the factors behind the state’s low scores and low retention rates for teachers.
Dunleavy says he’ll be introducing legislation that will incentivize contractors to hire Alaskan workers and introduce stiffer penalties for sex trafficking offenses.
He says he will totally revamp the way land is sold in Alaska, removing regulation that will transfer land to private hands.
The state is still undoing a fiscal crisis, he says. Last year’s budget was concerned solely with reductions, and this year will be concerned with building a sustainable budget.
Alaskans need to be included in the conversation and need to be able to vote for constitutional amendments on spending caps and a change in the Permanent Fund Dividend.
Dunleavy says he will be introducing a state lottery next year in order to create more revenue for the state.
Alaska needs to be allowed to have access and control of its resources, and not have decisions about its lands be made by people who live in big cities thousands of miles away, Dunleavy says.
Alaska’s creation was predicated on the ability to exploit its mineral wealth, he says, and the future of the state shouldn’t be left to overzealous outsiders.
The governor started his address by introducing his wife, Rose, and members of his cabinet. He then dove right in to the substance of his speech. He says that private investment has flowed into the state and that the oil industry here, is experiencing a “renaissance” which will bring more money into the state.
The state has very large deposits of so-called rare earth minerals, minerals that are used in the production of technologies like cell phones. That market is currently dominated by China, he says, and Alaska is the answer to that dilemma.
After a bit of quiet at the Capitol, lawmakers, staff and members of the media can be seen in the halls, moving about in preparation for the governor’s speech. House speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, will speak with the press following the address.
“Think about being handed almost a $14,000 bill every month,” said Brien Daugherty, who said he wished to appeal to the committee’s humanity.
It’s looking like this meeting might not have sufficient time for everyone to offer testimony via telephone.
Wilson said there will be time Wednesday for additional testimony.
So far all testimony has favored the bill.
Juneauites Margie Beedle, Luann Mcvay and Doug Larsen also delivered testimony. They have mostly focused on the impact rate increases have had on their parents.
“Even my parents, who receive federal pensions, cannot afford to move in there,” McVey said. “Please support Representative Fields’ bill. It supports reasonable limits on Pioneer Homes.”
Judy Crondahl is now giving testimony.
She said high rates will only encourage seniors to leave the state well before they reach a point at which they cannot care for themselves.
Laura Stats said her mother-in-law is at the Juneau Pioneer Home and her rate has almost doubled.
“She is a private payer, she also had long-term coverage, which lasts four years,” Stats said. “She has been in the Pioneer Home since 2011 advancing to this level of care. I venture to say this level of increase is greatly unfair.”
Stats said the state needs to find new revenue streams such as an income tax or the Permanent Fund.
Committee Chairman Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, is opening up public testimony.
Juneau resident Brad Rider is kicking things off.
“There’s nothing more important in this state,” he said of caring for the elderly.
He said his mom’s rate increased from $4,000 to $11,000.
“The Pioneer Homes were never designed to make money,” he said. “They were designed to take care of our elderly here in Alaska.”
He said the state wants to give away money in the form of the Permanent Fund Dividend, but can’t take care its elderly.
Clinton Lasley, acting deputy commissioner for Family, Community & Integrated Services and former Pioneer Homes director, is giving testimony.
“This bill provides stability for residents and department,” Fields said. “It ensures timely and predictable rate increases.”
Former Legislative Finance Director David Teal is delivering invited testimony. He said he was not invited to testify for or against the bill, but to relay discussions from the House Finance Committee.
Some context for earlier points, Fields’ presentation breaks down three current levels of care. Level 1 includes housing, meals, emergency assistance recreation and home activities; Level 2 adds Medicaid administration, health-related services and staff assistance; and Level 3 adds 24-hour hands-on assistance.
The enacted monthly rates are $3,623 for Level 1, $6,569 for Level 2, $11,185 for Level 3, $13,333 for Level 4 and $15,000 for Level 5.
Fields said if the bills’ proposed rates are enacted, the state will not undercut the private market.
“If you’re just looking for the cheapest assisted living, the Pioneer Homes are not the cheapest assisted living now, and they’re not going to be,” Fields said.
People, he said, would still be paying a premium for better care.
Sen. Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, said he suspects the approach taken by the bill would allow more Pioneer Home residents to pay at least some of the cost of their care, and he would like to hear more about that.
“We actually have a lot of residents who are private payers,” Fields said of Pioneers’ Homes residents.
He said since the most recent rate increases, that figure has declined.
The bill includes five proposed levels of care. Level 1 would cost $2,976 per month, Level 2 $5,396, Level 3 $7,814, Level 4 $7,814 and an uncapped fifth level.
Rate increases could be annual and capped at the most recent Social Security Cost of Living Adjustment.
Sen. Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage, said there is a gap between Level 3 and Level 4 and the amount of coverage Pioneers’ Homes residents could receive from Medicaid.
“I just want to be assured the Pioneers Homes will accept, and my guess is there is probably a waiting room for all five acuities, but I think it’s important for Pioneer Homes to take all levels of care. What’s to stop those costs from going up more and more and more faster than what the Medicaid daily coverage is?” von Imhof asked.
Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage, is present to discuss the bill, and the meeting is just getting started.
This afternoon, I’ll be sitting in on the Senate Health and Social Services meeting where a bill intended to keep Pioneers’ Homes and Veterans’ Homes affordable. Invited testimony followed by public testimony are expected.
The bill’s sponsors include Democrats, Republicans and independents. Juneau Democrats Rep. Sara Hannan and Sen. Jesse Kiehl are both among the sponsors.
The bills introduced by the senate included a handful of crime-related bills at the request of the governor.
Those included acts related to impersonating a peace officer, human trafficking and providing to notice to victims regarding petitions for removal from the sex offender registry among others.
It looks like the bills were also introduced in the House’s session.
In last year’s address, Dunleavy declared war on criminals, it’s possible these bills could signal the focus of tonight’s speech.
That was predictably short. The senate is will be in recess until tonight’s joint session.
A handful of bills were introduced and assigned to committees in the Senate. An at-ease has been called. This session has been fairly laid back so far. Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, wished new Sen. Josh Revak, R-Anchorage, a happy birthday. The bills
Coghill advised Revak to send his mother flowers since “she did all the work.”
Revak thanked Coghill for the wishes and said flowers are on the way.
Today looks like a busy and long one for the Legislature.
Both the House and Senate have sessions scheduled for 11 am., and a joint session scheduled for 7 p.m. this evening for Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s State of the State.
There’s also a relatively full agenda of committee meetings. At noon, there will be a House Judiciary Committee meeting for a judiciary budget overview from legislative finance staff; at 1 p.m. the House Resources Committee meets at 1 p.m. to talk about regulation of flame retardant chemicals, and 1:30 p.m. is the time for a House Finance Committee state debt summary, House Judiciary Committee meeting and a Health and Social Services meeting about Pioneers’ Home and Veterans’ Home rates.
Things taper off after that 1ith a Senate Finance meeting at 3:30 p.m. for discussion of a bill that would impact the way electric utilities are regulated in the Railbelt region.