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It’s All Downhill from Here: The Halfway Point of the Alaska Legislative Session

Morning Headlamp, March 13, 2017


Half time. At the halfway point of Alaska’s legislative session with just a month left to go, Alaska lawmakers are inching closer to passing next year's budget, plus an oil tax bill and legislation to restructure the Permanent Fund.


The House Finance Committee, after three full days vetting amendments, finally advanced the state’s operating budget to the floor, where further debate and a final vote are expected next week. Members of the House Majority coalition are proposing an income tax and a restructuring of the Permanent Fund to raise new revenue.


After weeks of work, the House Finance Committee advanced no substantial cuts to state agencies beyond those already proposed by Gov. Bill Walker. In fact, they increased the size of government.  


The Senate Finance Committee, meanwhile, finished work on Senate Bill 26, the legislation to use some $2 billion in Permanent Fund investment earnings to help close the state's budget deficit. The bill sets dividends at $1,000 and uses roughly the same amount of cash to fill the deficit. Both the Senate proposal as well as Gov. Walker’s proposed legislation have mechanisms to use less money from the Permanent Fund earnings when the state receives more oil revenue.


Permanent Fund. Alaska lawmakers haven't yet approved legislation to use investment earnings from the $57 billion Permanent Fund to help cover the state's $3 billion deficit. But discussions are already beginning about a public vote to repeal any legislation along those lines, since it would likely result in smaller dividend checks than the record highs of recent years.


Climate change commission? New proposed legislation, House Bill 173, from Anchorage Democratic Rep. Andy Josephson, would establish a 15-member climate commission to apply for grants, monitor climate change, promote green technologies and look for ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, took the unusual step of referring Josephson's legislation to three different committees instead of the typical one or two, which will likely slow, if not halt, its progress. Another Anchorage Democrat, Rep. Chris Tuck, unveiled a proposal Friday to create the ANWR tour program for members of Congress.


Alaska Resources on Trump’s Radar. Sen. Murkowski says President Trump is interested in opening coastal Alaskan waters for oil and gas drilling – reversing Obama administration policies which restricted energy development. At a CERAWeek conference in Houston, Murkowski said both Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke are weighing ways to expand opportunities to drill in Arctic waters. “What was very clear was a recognition that what Alaska has to offer is considerable, important and we need to be working to undo much of what the Obama administration did in terms of locking up these resources,” said Murkowski of her talks with Trump. 


First Reads

The Scoreboard: Halfway through, here's where the big bills stand in the Alaska Legislature

Alaska Dispatch News, Nathaniel Herz, March 13, 2017


Alaska’s political leaders have steered clear of a vote on a Permanent Fund plan. They might get one anyway.

Alaska Dispatch News, Nathaniel Herz, March 13, 2017


New bills would create climate change commission, ANWR tours for Congress

Alaska Dispatch News, Nathaniel Herz, March 13, 2017


Opening Arctic for Drilling Is Trump Priority, Key Senator Says

Bloomberg, Jennifer A Dlouhy and Catherine Traywick, March 10, 2017


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