Southeast Alaska lawmakers spent time during the legislative session working to protect regional interests, including the ferry system.
The lack of agreement over a long-term plan to balance the state’s budget means there’s more work for them to do.
State representatives Sam Kito III and Justin Parish both said the Legislature accomplished some good this year, including preventing cuts to the public school and ferry budgets.
Kito said the Legislature’s inability to agree on a long-term plan to balance the state’s budget was a major disappointment.
“What I do want to do is make sure that we don’t spend down our savings to the point where we have to significantly increase taxes beyond what is proposed to the Alaskan public,” Kito said.
Kito, a Democrat, represents nearly half of Juneau, as well as Haines, Skagway and Gustavus.
Kito said the new law ending oil and gas tax credits that companies can cash in was a start.
“I do have a concern that there’s a lot of work left to do in trying to make sure that we are providing for the best revenue stream from the oil and gas industry, at the same time providing adequate incentives for smaller corporations, smaller companies to go out and do exploration,” Kito said.
Kito chairs the Legislative Council, which can influence how much lawmakers are paid per day during sessions. He suggested that criticism of the Legislature’s per diem payments shouldn’t be a major focus as the Legislature considers addressing the budget gap.
“Even though it is an issue that some members of the public are highlighting, it is one of those things that is, for me, a distraction on trying to get our work done,” Kito said.
Kito said he’d like to see the Legislature meet to pass legislation increasing state revenue later this year, but he said that will only make sense if leaders in both the House and Senate will agree to work together.
“Having productive leadership discussions early on and more often could have actually alleviated some of the delays that we saw in trying to get out of town this year,” Kito said. “Hopefully, we learn our lesson from this year, and we are able to get our work done in a more reasonable amount of time next year.”
Parish also is a Democrat. He represents the rest of Juneau, including the Mendenhall Valley. It was his first session. He’s disappointed the Senate didn’t spend more time considering the income tax proposal the House passed.
“Most Alaskans recognize that we need to step up to the plate,” Parish said. “We need to contribute, or we’ll be leaving a much worse state for our children. And that’s not OK with most of us.”
Parish parted ways with most of the other members of the House majority, including Kito, in supporting funds for the Juneau Access Project to extend the road north of Juneau.
“Most importantly, I represent my district,” Parish said. “The people in my district have told me that it’s a priority to them that in the long term, people in Juneau should have an easier way of getting out of town and getting back.”
Parish voted with most of the Republican House minority against the capital budget due to a cut to the road. He’d like to see House members work together more.
“There is not enough bipartisan cooperation in the House,” Parish said. “I’m glad that our current coalition, with Republicans, Democrats and independents, was able to come together. But I really want to reach out to more members of the minority, and members of the majority in the Senate, and try to find common ground, try to find realistic solutions to the serious problems that are facing us.”
Speculation on the timing for a fourth special session focused on revenue has centered on late October. But that may depend on legislative leaders making progress before then.