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Legislative session ends with $3,200 payouts to Alaskans, some money for Kenai Peninsula projects

Andrew Kitchenman
KTOO and Alaska Public Media

The Alaska Legislature wrapped up its session last week. In the final hours, it set one of the largest budgets in Alaska’s history, including $3,200 payments to Alaskans.

Lawmakers have since returned home from the Capital. Calling from his Nikiski peony farm Monday, Republican Rep. Ben Carpenter said this session was unlike any other he’s experienced before.

In 2019 and 2020, the Legislature was struggling to come up with the money it needed.

“We have the opposite problem now," Carpenter said. "We had a surplus of funds and we had to remember how to spend it all.”

That shift is partly due to changing oil revenue. This year, the Alaska Legislature is expecting a large boost in revenue from higher oil prices, stemming from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And lawmakers decided to spend most of that surplus this session.

Carpenter said those inconsistencies from one fiscal year to another are indicative of a larger problem.

“Both of those situations highlight that we don’t have really an agreement on what a long-term, stable approach to budgeting ought to be," he said.

Carpenter’s on the House Finance Committee and was part of a bipartisan working group last summerthat worked to hammer out such a plan amid an impending government shutdown.

The group put out an ambitious set of recommendations — including a proposed Permanent Fund Dividend formula that would be written into the state constitution. The ethos was to create some stability from year to year and to cut back on the repetitive, annual disputes over the PFD.

But beyond those recommendations, Carpenter said nothing permanent came of the group.

"I think it’s obvious now that the reason that that fiscal policy working group came about was just as a means to overcome the impending government shutdown last year," he said.

He said the Legislature on the whole didn’t take the suggestions of the group seriously.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s back to square one.

“It’s still going to be valid next year," he said. "Nothing’s really changed since the summer of last year. So I think the value’s still there for using it for the framework of a future discussion.”

The bigger-than-normal budget includes some capital funding for Kenai Peninsula projects, including $6.5 million for the effort to stabilize the bluff in Kenai.

That money has been cut from previous years' budgets. Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander said it will help the city meet its 35-percent local match for the long-anticipated project.

The Legislature also set aside funding for a dock expansion project in Homer. And the Alaska Railroad Corporation got the greenlight to sell bonds to fund the replacement of its passenger dock and terminal in Seward. Carpenter said that’s part of the legislature’s bond bank bill.

Projects from the budget could still be vetoed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy. The budget will soon head to his desk for approval.

Sabine Poux is a producer and reporter for the Brave Little State podcast of Vermont Public. She was formerly news director and evening news host at KDLL in Kenai.

Originally from New York, Sabine has lived and reported in Argentina and Vermont and Kenai.
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