Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, spoke at the Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce Luncheon Thursday where he discussed recent happenings in state politics and answered questions about what to expect.
A crowd of about 60 people gathered at folding tables eating a lunch of Chicken Cordon Bleu, mashed potatoes and steamed corn at Juneau’s Moose Lodge.
Speaking for about half an hour, Kiehl covered what the legislature has been doing, or trying to do, over the past several months. He spoke about bipartisan efforts to pass a capital budget that made deep cuts but didn’t take away many of the programs Alaskans rely on.
“Many of (the cuts) were difficult for me to make,” he said, referring to the capital budget that was passed by the legislature earlier this year only to have significant chunks of it vetoed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy. Kiehl said that the cuts the legislature made were substantial but responsible.
Earlier this month the governor announced roughly $444 million in cuts to the state budget which caused a stand off between rival factions of the legislature. Disagreement over where the legislature was to meet fell largely along the line of support or opposition to the governor’s vetoes, with Dunleavy’s supporters convening in Wasilla. Kiehl and the majority of the legislature, who opposed the vetoes, met in Juneau.
Wednesday the governor announced that the remainder of the special session, which ends the first week of August, will take place in Juneau. Kiehl thanked the governor for making that decision, noting that legislative leadership and the governor had been “at loggerheads,” but that those differences were put aside in order to finalize a budget.
He thanked the legislature for coming out against the governor’s vetoes, joining other chambers around the state which also opposed such deep cuts. The Juneau Chamber, Kiehl said, recognized the vetoes went “too far, too fast,” he said.
Kiehl said he had spoken to several people over the past weeks who said they were planning to leave Alaska because of worry about losing their job. He also said that he had spoken with several people about the deep cuts the governor made to the ferry system which would have deep economic consequences for many coastal communities who rely on the ferries for transportation.
During the question and answer session, Kiehl was asked about the status of House Bill 2001, the bill currently making its way through committee which restores many of the cuts made by Dunleavy’s vetoes but only allocates a $1,600 Permanent Fund Dividend.
“I think it’s highly unlikely that the legislature will come up with a 45 vote majority without negotiating with the governor,” Kiehl said. Kiehl said he was hopeful that the legislature would be able to come up with a budget that provided enough state funds to qualify for federal matching funds, as well as fund many of the state programs Alaskans relied on, though not to the extent they had been previously.
Kiehl did say that he believed it was time to re-examine the formula used to calculate the PFD, and that it was time for Alaskans to decide what role they wanted the Permanent Fund to play in Alaska’s fiscal future.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.