Rep. Ortiz gives legislative update

State Representative Dan Ortiz called into Wrangell's assembly meeting last week, Dec. 8. Recently re-elected to office, Ortiz called in to provide the assembly with a brief look at what the upcoming legislative session will bring, and some of his plans for it. Normally he tries to visit in-person for these updates, he said, but due to the pandemic he was providing his update virtually.

"Normally before the start of the session I try to make it to every community that I represent, and to make it to their city or municipal meetings," he said. "So we're going to use the Facebook option tonight, or not Facebook but the Zoom option. I appreciate the opportunity."

The next legislative session will begin around Jan. 18, Ortiz said, but things are still getting organized. The whole legislature has several daunting challenges ahead, he said, as they continue to deal with COVID-19 and declining revenues at the state and local levels.

"As Mayor Prysunka was saying earlier, we're Alaskans and we stick together," he said. "We'll come out on the other end better than we were before, but it might take us a while to get there."

There are some issues leftover from the last session that they may or may not look at, Ortiz said. For one thing, there is an incomplete capital budget. A significant portion of the capital budget for FY 2021 has not yet been appropriated, about $150 million in projects. If this is looked at, Ortiz said this would mean more expenditures. Other items on the table included deferred maintenance projects, lost revenue due to COVID-19, and school district enrollment being down. They will also be looking at the FY 2022 state budget, as well.

As for items that impact Wrangell in particular, Ortiz said that Alaska Marine Highway revenue is down by $45 million in FY 2020 and 2021, which has caused reductions in schedules and a shortfall for overhauls. This, among other items, will be looked at. Ortiz also said that he is prepared to try and restore funding for a local ADF&G office in Wrangell, as well as funding for a part-time social worker, depending on the assembly's direction. He added that appropriations for capital budget projects will likely be hard to come by, but the assembly should still get a prioritized list of projects for him to advocate for.


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