Peggy's Corner of the House
Hello everyone! Welcome to week eight of our Legislative Session.
We have entered the downside of the session so, as in past years, the pace has quickened and night meetings will continue to happen more and more in order for us to get all of the work done in the allotted 90 days.
I am excited to report that this past week my House Joint Resolution 10 (HJR10) passed from the House over to the Senate. For the past five years I have been advocating for an Alaska Transportation Infrastructure Fund (ATIF). In Fiscal Year 2014, 79 percent of Alaska’s transportation budget will come from the federal government – this is down from 84 percent in FY10. We currently have a $20 billion backlog of transportation projects and over $760 million in deferred maintenance of our transportation infrastructure. Even now with federal help we cannot keep up with our transportation needs. For these reasons we need to create this ATIF fund.
House Joint Resolution 10 (HJR10) will ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment to reinstate the dedicated fund for transportation infrastructure that was discontinued in 1963. It will also direct the revenue from all transportation-related taxes & fees into the fund. All of these fees/taxes were originally implemented to fund transportation infrastructure. Having a dedicated fund will allow the state more opportunity to take advantage of both cost and time savings on state funded projects. I envision this process will provide the state more flexibility to plan and complete work on roads & ground transportation, state owned airports, the Alaska Marine Highway System, harbors & state owned marine facilities, community transportation & transit, and trails & bike paths. We are a resource state and we need to diversify our revenues to more than predominantly oil and gas. We have fishing, mining, tourism and all the support businesses, but we need to develop access and infrastructure which will result in more economic development and jobs in many more areas of our state.
Alaska needs new transportation infrastructure development which would provide new access to our many resources, reduce barriers for many communities to participate in a larger economy, and allow for safe and efficient transportation of our goods and people.
With today’s political climate, the loss of earmarks, and a new federal highway re-authorization bill, we have declining funds from the Federal government. Alaska has also come under scrutiny for the ratio of federal to state dollars that have been provided to the state. We need the security of our own transportation fund, which will allow us to get projects designed, permitted and constructed more quickly and cost effectively than when federal dollars are involved.
The Alaska Transportation Infrastructure Fund is about meeting the ever-growing transportation needs of Alaskans and is not intended to diminish our partnership with the federal government. The intention is to provide a dedicated revenue stream that will allow more projects to be completed faster and cheaper. We need to make sure our transportation fees and taxes go to transportation needs. I look forward to the voters of the state having the opportunity to vote on this important issue in November!
This past week, we also passed the operating budget for the State of Alaska for next fiscal year 2015. The Finance Committee reduced the governor’s budget by $54 million in Unrestricted General Funds which is a $1.3 billion reduction from 2014. That is a significant change in course when compared to the annual 7.2 percent growth rate over the last eight years. I am hopeful we will be able to hold this line as the operating budget continues over to the Senate.
Please don’t forget that your local Legislative Information Office is there for you to testify, track bills and help you find information on any of the bills that are progressing through the legislature.
That’s all for now from Peggy’s Corner of the House – talk with you next week!