Alaska Legislature Addresses Three Economy-Based Bills
The F/V Aurora
JUNEAU—In a span of three consecutive days, the Alaska Legislature saw two new pieces of legislation introduced by the House of Representatives and passed a bill that was unanimously approved by both the House of Representatives and State Senate.
The state House introduced House Bills 253 and 249, focused on ferries in the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS), and House Concurrent Resolution 13, which concerned the future of the Permanent Fund.
Meanwhile, the Senate passed House Bill 44, a bill focused on small business in the tourism sector, by a unanimous vote of 19-0 after the bill had previously passed the House by another unanimous vote.
House Bill 253
Members of the Alaska House Majority introduced new bills that would protect state ferries and chart a new course for the Alaska Marine Highway System.
House Bill 253, introduced by Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (D-Sitka) and several other lawmakers, would prevent the Alaska Department of Transportation from selling or disposing of a ferry without first obtaining the approval of lawmakers.
The proposal would help protect past investments into the AMHS by ensuring that significant public process occurs before any ferries are permanently taken out of commission.
“Many Alaskans share my concern that the Dunleavy administration may dismantle the ferry system to the point that, like Humpty Dumpty, it cannot be put back together again,” Representative Kreiss-Tomkins said. “This legislation is co-sponsored by coastal legislators from across the state and is something of a mayday to help save our marine highway.”
Representative Louise Stutes’ House Bill 249 would create the Alaska Marine Highway System Corporation. One of the primary reasons for the ongoing AMHS crisis is the lack of a long-term vision that incorporates the perspective of stakeholders across coastal Alaska regions and maintains a high level of service at a reasonable cost.
“It’s very clear from ongoing maintenance and operational issues that the Alaska Marine Highway System currently does not have the capacity to make sound, long-term decisions for the future health of the system,” said Representative Stutes, a Kodiak Republican. “We must give the AMHS stability by pursuing management options that are not subject to the whims of a new administration every four years.”
House Concurrent Resolution 13
The House of Representatives also introduced a resolution vowing to defend the value of the Permanent Fund, not only for Alaskans today but also for future generations.
House Concurrent Resolution 13 commits to safeguard the investment of oil and investment wealth that has accumulated in the Permanent Fund over the past two generations. These benefits are seen not only in the form of dividends but also in providing for essential state services such as road plowing, education, and hiring state troopers.
“We reject the idea that most people would take from future generations just so we can receive the largest PFD in history today,” House Speaker Bryce Edgmon (I-Dillingham) said of HCR13.
“We stand on the backs of the wise Alaskans who turned our nonrenewable resources into a source of wealth that can sustain us forever,” added Representative Jennifer Johnston, an Anchorage Republican and co-chair of the House Finance Committee. “We owe it to our children and grandchildren to do everything we can to grow the Permanent Fund to $100 billion by 2040.”
“The Permanent Fund is a sustainable resource that we can’t endanger,” said Representative Neal Foster, a Nome Democrat and co-chair of the House Finance Committee. “It is the only resource we have that can reliably pay dividends and fund essential state services, such as education, public safety, and transportation when Alaska’s nonrenewable resources run out.”
House Bill 44
A proposal that will help the bottom line of Alaska small businesses that cater to international tourists cleared its final legislative hurdle, as well.
House Bill 44, which was previously approved on a unanimous vote in the House, passed the Senate, 19-0.
The bill closes a gap that has already been closed in all other states, allowing independently owned ATMs to charge a fee for international card users. Currently, independently-owned ATMs—which are located in small, local, non-bank companies—are not allowed to charge a fee on transactions made by international cards.
Representative Dan Ortiz (I-Ketchikan) sponsored HB 44.
“As we see more and more international visitors traveling to visit Alaska, this bill will generate more income for independent ATM owners and put more money into local economies,” Representative Ortiz said. “I’m grateful that both bodies agreed with this common-sense fix.”
HB44 was supported by Alaska CHARR and the National ATM Council. If signed into law by Governor Mike Dunleavy, it will take effect immediately.
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