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September 24, 2021

A Belated Apocalyptic Legislative Wrap-Up from Les Gara

Well, it seems like the only thing that got raptured yesterday was the internet service at Mudflats Central. It gave me a day off the grid, but it also meant that the Pre-Apocalyptic newsletter that I was going to post from our friend Rep. Les Gara is now a little past its apocalyptic prime…

But the information is still important and very relevent, so we’ll just go with the irony of my raptured online service, and enjoy it anyway. My theory is that the rapture actually did happen, but nobody was eligible. Carry on.

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By Rep. Les Gara

You were probably as surprised as I was to wake up and find out there’s a guy in Florida who says the rapture will be tomorrow.  I guess I always thought I’d get more notice before the end of the world.

I owe you a post-session e-news, and given what might happen tomorrow, I don’t think I have any more time to procrastinate on this.  Though it would be nice to get more notice next time if this guy is wrong, like he was in 1994.  I’d like to have my house and chores in order before an apocalypse.  But I guess, so would everyone else.

Some good, some bad occurred this session.  And I need you to write the Governor on a few projects to make sure they survive vetoes – see below – that is, if you care about Anchorage’s quality of life.  Skip the bad if the whole Saturday apocalypse thing is already bumming you out.

The Unspecial Session

Well, that was a mess.  As you may recall, I and others called on those five or six leaders appointed to negotiate the House and Senate’s differences – including the Governor – to sit down and negotiate their way out of session.  The Governor was a problem, so were others who refused to talk or compromise with each other at times when talking was the only way out of session.  In a bicameral system, one side just can’t get their way.  Click here to read our call to get folks talking.

The Coastal Zone Management Debacle.  The Governor refused to read one of the bill compromises the Senate offered on Coastal Zone Management, saying he’d look at it if it passed.  You read that right.  He actually refused, which didn’t help things any – according to Senate sources.  The problem was the Senate needed the Governor’s help to get a few House members to vote for it.  That bill, which the Governor put on the Special Session call, failed by one vote in the House.  The Governor’s help would have been nice.

What’s Coastal Zone Management?  Well, we had it until 2003 – it grants local communities the right to express concerns to state agencies about projects in their districts, and lets them suggest amendments to those projects to protect local interests (like a chemical-emitting dry cleaning plant on an important fishing river).  Governor Murkowski ended this program, and turned it into a shell in 2004.  Coastal legislators have been trying to resurrect it ever since.  It is both pro-development, and good government.  It’s pro-development because it brings all communities and agencies to one table, so permitting goes faster.  And it gives affected residents a voice.

So what happened?   The major oil companies, through the Resource Development Council, wrote a letter supporting the weakest version of this bill – which let the state easily overrule local concerns.  The House passed that version.  The Senate then strengthened it modestly.  The vote in the House to concur was going to be close, so the Senate went to the Governor asking for his help.  He wouldn’t help.  The Resource Development Council wrote a letter opposing the Senate’s modestly stronger version.  According to the Senate President, the Governor wouldn’t even read the proposed compromise, and said he’d only look at it when he was considering vetoes.  Well, that bill failed in the House by one vote.  Which caused rumors of another special session – because the oil companies and Governor overplayed their hands.  With no Coastal Zone Management program, there will be more local lawsuits, and project permitting will take longer.  How’s that for cutting your nose to spite your face.

OK, I can’t make Coastal Zone Management any more interesting than that.  Dry topic, important issue.

The Capital Budget – Another Debacle of “Process”: There is good and bad to say about this construction budget.  Vilifying those who voted either way is too easy, and not right.  I voted against it because I feel in these years of high oil prices we should save more money as we face future years of deficits (we saved $1 billion – but could have saved $2 billion).

This is the biggest capital budget in state history – at $3.2 billion.  It includes an additional $600 million dedicated to programs, but that won’t be spent yet, and is intended to be used later.  Proponents call that money “savings”.  Hmmm.

The Pros. We funded needed energy projects around the state.  That’s important in a resource rich, but energy production-poor state.  And projects around the state from roads to school computers will create jobs.

The Cons. It was too big.  We can’t afford to spend on things that aren’t priorities.  Like $37.5 million for an Anchorage Port expansion when no one has offered any evidence that this project is efficiently sized, and designed.  Since 2003 the cost estimates have gone from $200 million, to $300 million, to $500 million, to $700 million to – when I asked Governor Sheffield, the Port Director in committee this month, $1.1 billion.  When he comes in with an efficiently sized, rational, affordable expansion project, I’ll be on board.  But right now he’s building this port as big as he can get money for.  We can’t afford that kind of spending.

Here are some projects I either voted for in amendments, or pushed for to insert into the capital budget.  They were, in total, modestly priced – and if you multiplied my requests by 40 districts, the budget would have been 80% smaller.  That is, I didn’t try to pork up the budget.  I hope you might write separate, short e-mails to the Governor so these projects make it past a veto.

We Need your Help – Please E-Mail The Governor On Public Access/Parking for Glen Alps: As you may recall, the City started ticketing people who parked on the road to Glen Alps last summer – effectively taking away 50 parking spots for the gateway to dozens of trails and mountain hikes in Chugach State Park.  The Division of Parks has designed a plan to add 50 new legal spaces.  If we don’t add them, then we have a problem.  This lot, used by 130,000 people who want to enjoy Alaska every summer, is now full by 4 pm, and the rest of us can’t drive up there after work for a hike, stroll or bike.

We initially started trying to get funding for this project with Senator French early in session.  When we failed at getting the funding in the Senate budget, we asked Rep. Sharon Cissna (a co-founder of Chugach State Park) and Rep. Lindsey Holmes to join with us in submitting this request to the House Finance Committee Chairs, who agreed to include the funding.  Please write the Governor and his Budget Director to not veto this needed “quality of life” project.  A short two sentence e-mail is as good as a two pager.  Just say whatever you want.  But please support the $715,000 appropriation for this project, and note that it is supported by the Division of Parks.  There are more expensive, more comprehensive public access plans out there.  They need to be debated first.  This one is an emergency project in terms of local public access needs.

Please e-mail Sean.Parnell@alaska.gov and Karen.Rehfeld@alaska.gov – you can use the same note and e-mail both at the same time.

Commemorating MLK Jr’s speech defending American’s right to organize
Commemorating MLK Jr’s speech defending American’s right to organize

Other good projects. We have upgraded the energy transmission system along the urban railbelt, and funded renewable energy and hydroelectric projects in the state’s smaller communities.  This will reduce the cost or energy, or at least dull cost increases in the future.  Feasibility wells for geothermal power at Mt. Spurr across from Anchorage is one of these projects.

I also voted for language to make sure the endowment we created for financial aid will go both to the Governor’s merit-based scholarship, and to needs-based aid for those who go to college or seek post secondary vocational education – a good compromise.  And I voted in the operating budget to put money into both.

Home and Business Energy Efficiency Upgrades – Take Advantage of It! The state’s home energy efficiency rebate/upgrade project has produced over 2,500 jobs, and is saving energy across the state.  Call AHFC at 338-6100 or toll-free at 800-478-2432 if you’d like to take advantage of the rebates.  The Governor only put $25,000,000 into this program, which would have basically put it on life support.  It needed $120 million to move faster than it has, so more people can upgrade their homes more quickly.  I voted for an amendment to do that.  I also tried to add $10 million to a revolving loan fund (the state doesn’t lose money on revolving loan funds and we’ve had a good record of protecting the principal, and making a little money) to help businesses upgrade their energy efficiency.  That failed along party lines, though Sen. Bill Wielechowski was able to add $2.5 million to that effort – not what we wanted, but better than where we were.

We also tried to secure needed funding for the University’s Center for Energy and Power, which leverages federal and private funds so Alaska can become a leader in renewable energy research and solutions.  While a mistake kept that out of the House budget, it was added in the Senate.  Renewable energy isn’t just a way to diversify our energy base and level costs, it’s becoming a job producer in this state.

School Funds, Pre-K: There was some disappointment on this front.  While I and my Democratic caucus members sought school funding that would avoid layoffs, and keep pace with inflation, the House rejected that approach, and rejected a Senate bill that would have achieved a similar result.  Instead, the House passed a 1.8% increase that will last only one year, and disappear next year. The House deleted funding for a $2 million pilot pre-K project the state has launched, but I and others, and the Senate, helped restore that funding.  42 other states have voluntary statewide pre-kindergarten programs because students who have that opportunity earn more, end up in jail in smaller numbers, and graduate college and high school in larger numbers.  It’s a big failing in Alaska’s school system – and remains one of the big ideological battles in the legislature.

Fishing Stream Access: My bill to enhance public fishing stream access, and prevent further losses of access on important fishing waters, passed the House.  We hope it will pass the Senate next year.

Foster Care: We added funds to provide substance abuse treatment to families about to lose children into the foster care system.  Currently there are six month and longer waiting lists for these services, and paying a foster family while children are taken away from their parents, who sit on treatment waiting lists, is a waste of money, and damages children.  Sen. Bettye Davis and I filed parallel bills to further improve the foster care system.  One of them will hopefully pass, but they are in Rep. Wes Keller’s Health and Social Services committee.  I think he will agree to let those bills proceed.

OK.  That’s it.   Well, I don’t mean “that’s it”, like there will be an apocalypse tomorrow.  But there might be.  In which case, I guess, that is it.  Though in my experience – I’ll just say those things are hard to predict.

Comments

comments

Comments
12 Responses to “A Belated Apocalyptic Legislative Wrap-Up from Les Gara”
  1. Mo says:

    Thanks for that informative update! Better than we get in the newspapers…

  2. mike from iowa says:

    In Iowa, communities used to have say-so in the sitings of large animal confinement buildings. It was our version of Coastal Zone Commission. Well,the Farm Bureau and large confinement owners started wailing and gnashinmg their teeth. They paid out some monies and had local control removed from the law books and put a watered down state DNR in charge. Now you can’t even file lawsuits if your property value drops necause of the stink and flies of these mega-large confinements. Rethugs in Iowa are joined at the hip to the Farm Bureau,where bigger is good,but,even bigger is better.

  3. psg_bill says:

    You left out the best part about not passing legislation for a Coastal Commmission….The Feds will have a more active part in our coastal projects now that the State has shown they can’t provides sufficient oversight. Good job Gov. Zero! Keep talking about hating the Feds and keep handing over more things to them; that’s smart…..

  4. Baker's Dozen says:

    so when was the last time that Alaska actually had a governor that worked–that actually earned their pay?

  5. Millie says:

    I so like Les Gara and which we had more in the Alaska Legislature like him. You can always count on him to ask the tough questions in the various committee hearings and it is quite apparent when watching “Gavel to Gavel” that he is a pain in the ass to the Republicans on whatever committee he/they serve. (I’ve watched time and time again – Fairclough (R/Eagle River) always seems to be the ‘ appointed one’ to respond to his questions which they appear to have anticipated. She is as arrogant as Gara is respectful and careful in approaching his specific question.

    Yea, Les Gara! Thank you for keeping us informed and for your ethical ways.

    • Millie says:

      First sentence – “wish (not which) we had more in the Alaska Legislature like him.

      Sorry for the goof.

  6. AKPetMom says:

    715,000 is a lot for a parking lot. Isn’t there a way to do this for less than 3/4 million dollars? I agree it is necessary but that is a lot of money for a gravel lot for 30 cars.

  7. PollyinAK says:

    Thank you for all the great information and insights. Agreed on all points.
    Glen Alps/Chugach Park trail head parking benefits residents and
    it adds to our summer visitor’s enjoyment (tourism). What’s the use of
    having a beautiful park, if you can’t go to it (due to parking)!

    It is very frustrating to have to turn around because
    the parking lot is full. We (residents) send people to “Flat Top” all the time
    for hiking or taking photos. It’s too spectacular not to have access.

  8. UgaVic says:

    Thank you for giving us some more insight to what happened.
    I won’t even get started on th Coastal Zone Management issue, but to see that the Gov did not ‘help’ just makes matters worse.
    Pre-K funding is such a simple thing that pays off in so many ways…how many times does this need to proven out!!
    Will keep an eye on the other projects but am darn glad that Renewable Energy is getting some good PR is hopeful.

  9. Thank you for the update – ! Keep on keeping on – and yes, the rapture may have happened centuries ago for all we know. 🙂

  10. leenie17 says:

    “The Governor was a problem”

    I suspect you could have left the post at that and it would have covered pretty much everything!

    Sigh…why can’t people just think a little about how their decisions will affect other people instead of blindly following the partisan hack (or campaign contributor) in front of them? I don’t live in AK, but thanks anyway for everything you do, Rep. Gara, to make the state a better place. All the states need more legislators like you!

    I’m holding my breath that the special election in my own US Senate district (NY-26) may result in a pleasant surprise for this traditionally very red part of our state next Tuesday. So far, Dem Kathy Hochul is still polling ahead of the expected winner who is one of the few Republicans still carrying the flag for Paul Ryan’s budget proposal. I’ll be at the voting booth on Tuesday, doing my part to change the red to blue. Fingers crossed…

    • Zyxomma says:

      I am hoping for the best, Leenie. It would be beautiful, and I’m glad you’re contributing to the purpling of that district.

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