What to expect in our next legislative session
It is soon time to gavel in the second regular session of the 29th Legislature on January 19. There will be a lot of work to be done in the 90 days allotted, but no one will be too surprised if the legislators once again go into an additional special session.
As usual, there are some major themes for consideration, with this year focused on the state’s budget and the proposed natural gas pipeline project. How that consideration will play out in Juneau is anyone’s guess. That’s what makes Alaska politics so interesting and entertaining, to say nothing of consequential. These are very serious issues facing our state, and how the legislature and the administration work together to find solutions will be a true test of statesmanship.
As to how this session will affect older Alaskans, we have a rough starting point to work from. Governor Walker released his budget proposal on Dec. 9, which contains a mix of cuts in state spending and a variety of new revenue possibilities, including a statewide income tax, various sales taxes, capping the Permanent Fund Dividend, and using some increase of Permanent Fund earnings to fund state services. It’s a starting point because legislators have already reacted to the governor’s proposal with calls for deeper cuts in spending and a reluctance to consider taxes, especially in an election year.
Nevertheless, as a starting point, senior programs and services are in fairly good shape, and remain mostly intact from last year. A couple of items of note are that the Senior Benefits Program, which took a hit last session, is left alone in this budget. This program provides direct cash assistance to low income seniors. Also, there is an increase this current fiscal year in the Adult Dental Medicaid program of nearly $6 million. Additionally, there is a proposed increase for the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation Senior Citizens Housing Development Grant Fund, when last year there was none. Otherwise, funding for adult public assistance, the Long Term Care Ombudsman, and general relief are level.
Knowing that everything is likely to be up in the air, this legislative session is a good one to pay attention to. No doubt many unexpected things will happen, but paying attention throughout the 90 days will allow you to offer your opinion where you think it will count, and ensure that your voice is part of the conversation.
A couple of good ways to be “in the know” are readily available. If you’re a real political junkie, you can watch daily legislative proceedings live-streamed at http://www.akleg.gov or on http://www.360north.org/gavel-schedule/.
Even better, every other Thursday morning, the Alaska Commission on Aging has legislative teleconference updates with gathering sites at senior centers throughout the state. You can learn about bills, ask questions and give your opinion. You can find out more about these by contacting the Commission at 907-465-4793 (Lesley Thompson). The dates, times and agendas are also posted at http://www.dhss.alaska.gov/acoa under “legislative teleconferences.”
Ken Helander is the AARP Alaska Advocacy Director. Contact him at 762-3314 or firstname.lastname@example.org.