JUNEAU — Members of the House Majority Coalition held a press conference following Governor Dunleavy’s second State of the State address to the joint gathering of the legislature. While Dunleavy’s state lottery idea is not a new one, he does have support from some of those in the House Majority. Speaker Bryce Edgmon (N-Dillingham) said that Dunleavy has been listening to Alaskans and was encouraged by many things Dunleavy said during his 31 minutes at the podium.
“Many Alaskans who were for lack of a better term knocked on their heels last year with a budget proposal that really caught a lot of people off guard and by surprise, so it’s I think it’s gratifying to hear a different tone, a different approach,” said Edgmon.
While members of the House Majority were encouraged to hear that new revenue could be coming in the form of a state lottery, none believed it would be enough to close the $1.5 budget deficit. Representative Louise Stutes spoke on only one issue during her time to rebut Dunleavy’s speech.
“With the governor saying Alaskans look out for each other, I am presuming that coastal Alaskans and rural Alaskans are every bit as qualified as every other Alaskan to have a little help and we need to address that and give them a hand and address the transportation system,” said Stutes. “It has affected their economy. It has affected every aspect of rural Alaskan life for coastal Alaskans.”
Representative Steve Thompson (R-Fairbanks) had done similar research on the lottery bill and was pleased to see the Governor discuss the possibility of additional revenues during his speech. Among Dunleavy’s plans is an idea to exchange twice the value of the statutory amount of the PFD for land certificates.
“I can tell you I think there’s some proponents in the legislature behind that because the idea has been around for a while,” said Edgmon.
Representative Chuck Kopp (R-Anchorage) answered questions about proposed changes to sex trafficking laws, tightening restrictions and lengthening sentences for convicted sex traffickers in Alaska. Kopp said that existing statutes were unconstitutional, not giving sex offenders an opportunity to remove their name from the registry based on the severity of the crime. Changes to the laws would be vetted in committee and litigated at some point, but would clean up differences in statutes between states and create a tiered classification of sex trafficking crimes, preventing those on the upper tiers from removing their names from the registry and allowing those on the lower tiers to do so.
“I was very pleased to hear the governor talk about an emphasis on developing our mining industry, our commercial fishing industry and our timber industries. We do need to emphasize a diversification of revenue in our state,” said Kopp. “I think it’s a great thing when the state of Alaska seeks tribal members best interests and we’re seeing him introduce legislation with tribal compacting.”
While Edgmon believes that there will be supporters of Dunleavy’s land certificates-for-PFDs plan, he does not have such confidence in Dunleavy’s three constitutional amendments he introduced last year which he promoted again during his State of the State speech.
“Based on where we were last year, the same majorities are in power this year I don’t think we’re close to those numbers. That’s not to say that we’re sitting here saying that everything’s off the table, that we’re not going to work with the governor on his proposals, but we’re a week in the session and heard a lot of sort of ambitious ideas from the governor tonight,” said Edgmon. “If you pay a full statutory PFD for 2020 and you go back and you pay a full dividend for 2019 which I think the governor intends to do, although we didn’t hear him say that tonight, I’ve certainly heard him in other forums talk about that, then you’re looking at quite a hole. You’re looking at $1.5 billion plus, upwards of $2 billion in the hole.”
Co-Chair of House Finance Committee Representative Jennifer Johnston speculated on the continued struggle over the PFD as it relates to the state’s budget. Johnston pontificated that Alaska would be the envy of other states because of the budgeting surplus, but adding the amount of the full PFD results in a deficit. Johnston noted Dunleavy’s repeated claim to examine formula driven programs, noting that the PFD is the largest formula driven program in the state.
“The principals the House formed around was not a partisan one, it was a fiscal one where your expenditures match your revenues and you don’t go into savings. Now we know we have to negotiate with the Senate and the governor to get out of here, but we always try, that’s our target as a caucus is to pay the dividend we can afford and to not go into savings,” said Kopp.