Summary: The scope of the supplemental budget is quite broad and a lot of items are covered. The Committee didn’t address the fact the budget requests an additional $15 million over what has already been appropriated. Some of the things covered in the budget today could be removed by the legislature.
Hoffman says that in speaking with constituents the people hardest hit by the lack of access because of medical issues.
“Lives may be in danger,” Hoffman says, raising his voice. If the department is having trouble they should be making requests for funding, he says. If the lack of access causes injuries he will be holding the department of administration responsible.
Tshibaka responds that Real ID requirements have been known for several years, and the department has been making efforts to expand access and let people know there are other options.
Hoffman does not accept her response and says as a last comment, “do your homework.”
Olson has additional questions about the Real ID situation. Kelly Tshibaka, commissioner of the Department of Administration comes forward to answer his questions.
Tshibaka says she appreciates the opportunity to discuss why the money has not been requested to expand Real ID into rural areas.
A Real ID is not required to get through airport security come Oct. 1, she says. There are a number of other identification cards which are acceptable, such as a passport, tribal ID with a photo or a military ID. Some of the messaging around Real ID requirements have been misleading, she says.
The paperwork burden for Real ID is very high, she says, and is a burden even for urban Alaskans. The state is not able to make Real ID a requirement under federal law. The administration is working on methods to bring Department of Motor Vehicle services to rural Alaska, which involves a technologically sophisticated camera to meet the biometric requirements under Real ID.
The governor said the Marine Highway is a priority, Hoffman says, so does that mean there will be additional funds will be coming to AMHS, he asks.
That conversation is taking place, MacKinnon says. The department is talking with the U.S. Coast Guard to see which of the vessels that are currently tied up can be reintroduced into service.
Stedman says there haven’t been enough maintenance requests over the years, the deterioration of metal doesn’t happen over one summer, he says. New ships are 8 to ten years out, Stedman says, so there needs to be conversations around what can be done about that.
MacKinnon says DOT has made efforts to transport stranded passengers, but there are still passengers and vehicles waiting for transport.
Wielechowski asks how much DOT has “eaten” by refunding those passengers tickets and contracting private transportation.
MacKinnon says transporting the students was about $11,000. There may not have service in Southeast in March, but the department is looking at ways of providing special service to upcoming events.
Union contracts are preventing the department from doing certain things, MacKinnon says, but they have been working with the unions who have been agreeable, he says.
Stedman says the public should take note that may be little or no service in March and should begin making plans around that. He asks the public to have a little flexibility with the situation.
Nobody likes the situation, he says. “There are no winners.”
$7 million will go to Alaska Marine Highway operations to ensure the service level that was planned for this year can be met, Steininger says, as well as $5 million for vessel overhaul.
The funds are meant to get boats back in the water and to maintain the planned service, with some additional routes, according to Steininger, but there are no plans to increase service currently.
Stedman calls forward Department of Transportation and Public Facilities Commissioner John MacKinnon, who was in the audience. Stedman asks “that we put the sugar coating outside the door,” when they talk about the situation with AMHS.
Olsen wants to know how much the Department of Public Safety has spent on its recruitment and retention programs for the VPSO program.
That question can be answered at a later time, Stedman says.
In response to Hoffman’s question if the people of rural Alaska can sleep well at night, Olson says the answer is no. That’s an expected answer, Stedman says.
The Department of Law is asking for funds to expand legal offices in rural areas.
Olsen asks if the money being requested is being used for private law firms hired by the administration for various lawsuits. Steininger says he does not believe so. Stedman tells Olson that issue can be flushed out at a later date.
The administration is also asking for $13 million to support the Alaska State Troopers.
Hoffman asks if the people of rural Alaska should feel safe at night being that there’s no funding being allocated to the Village Public Safety Officer program.
Steininger says it’s a goal that all people of Alaska be able to sleep well at night.
Olson, who is on the VPSO working group, says there are vacancies and difficulties retaining staff. The program needs to be reworked with more funding getting out to rural areas.
Wielechowski asks if any of the money going to the Department of Health and Social Services is going to extend the Alaska Psychiatric Institutes contract Wellpath.
Sana Efird, assistant commissioner with DHSS says that some of that money is going to extend those contracts.
Wellpath is a private company contracted with the state to provide health care services for the state.
Stedman is pointing out what he calls an “urban-rural issue” when it comes to capital projects.
Rural gets zero while urban projects get funded with no discussion, he says.
His comments are an aside to a discussion about the funding for the Mt. Edgecumbe High School Aquatic Center.
“I’d just like to remind the public and the administration were voted on by the state of Alaska to build and maintain these projects,” Stedman says after listing off a number of projects around the state.
We will go forward with this, Stedman says of the funding for Mt. Edgecumbe, but he says that he wants everybody in the state to be treated equally, as the funds of the state are owned by everybody.
Money is also included in the supplemental to reopen the Palmer Correctional Center, but that process will take some time, Steininger says.
Wielechowski asks if efforts have begun to recruit staff for the reopened facility, which he says will also take some time.
Medicaid works by state and federal governments reimbursing payments to health care providers. Without the supplemental budget, the state will run out of Medicaid payment money for providers at the end of March or early April, according to OMB. With the supplemental budget the funding for FY20 will run out by June, OMB projects.
However, by that time FY21 will have begun and the government will hopefully have passed a budget.
Stedman says there are still cuts that can be made, and that the program will not be allowed to “run hog wild,” he says.
Another good chunk of the money in the supplemental is for Medicaid. Steininger is presenting on what the administration is calling “ambitious savings targets” in cuts to Medicaid programs.
The budget shortfall, Steininger says, came from costs the administration ran into when trying to build their budget.
“Optional services turned out not to be truly optional programs once (the administration) started working with federal partners and stakeholders,” Steininger said.
Committee Chairman Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, calls it “disconcerting” that the administration is now asking to replace funds six months after the cuts were made.
A significant amount of funds in the supplemental will go to paying back the money spent fighting the state’s wildfires over the summer.
Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, asks if any of the money in the supplemental will cover the Swan Lake Fire, which he says was allowed to grow due to a decision made by the federal government. He asks if the state is paying for a mistake on the part of the federal government.
John Maisch, director of the state Division of Forestry comes to the table and says the federal government will reimburse the state, but not for some time.
The state is also trying to recover funds from individuals or companies that may have caused the fires through negligence, but those cases are working their way through the court, Maisch says.
Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, asks OMB Director Neil Steininger why there is no money to assist Alaska residents with obtaining a Real ID, the new identification cards that will become federally required later this year.
Hoffman calls obtaining the ID a “life and death” matter because the card will be required for travel, which many sick and elderly people need.
Steininger says that issue will be addressed in time during the presentation.
Hoffman and Sen. Donny Olsen, D-Golovin, who also raised concerns, accept that response.
The Senate Finance Committee is meeting with representatives from the Office of Management and Budget to discuss the governor’s supplemental budget released yesterday. In addition to OMB staff, several commissioners from state departments are in the room as well.