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Alaska lawmakers end their session with late bills passing on energy, education

Alaska lawmakers ended a four-month session early Thursday with a flurry of last-minute bills addressing priority issues such as energy and distance learning programs that are the focus of ongoing litigation.

The spat over the budget has been quieter than in previous years, with Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy and legislative leaders having twice failed in their attempts to override Dunleavy’s veto of additional funding for public schools. , claimed it was a successful, drama-free session.

Alaska lawmakers fail to override Gov. Dunleavy’s education veto package

education

Education is a top priority as lawmakers in the bipartisan Senate and Republican-led House introduce legislation that includes a permanent $175 million increase in aid to school districts through the School Funding System. The compromise bill was passed with an overwhelming majority. But Dunleavy vetoed the bill, calling for polarizing charter school provisions and a three-year teacher bonus experiment.

Attempts to override the veto failed, and there were also efforts to craft alternative policies in the House. In the end, lawmakers settled on a one-time increase of $175 million to the foundation formula included in the budget, as well as additional funding to support reading for K-12 students.

Last year, Dunleavy vetoed half of a $175 million one-time grant to schools, but said he would support the just-passed budget increase.

Democratic Sen. Loki Tobin, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said work remains to address issues facing public schools and “remains challenging due to insufficient funding approved.” It will continue.” School officials and education advocates had called for a permanent funding increase of about $360 million.

Tom Krameier, president of the teachers union NEA Alaska, said he was also disappointed that the state Legislature did not restore pension benefits for public employees. The pension bill narrowly passed the Senate but stalled in the House. Senate leaders said work on retirement issues will continue.

Later in the legislative session, lawmakers pivoted to distance school, which allows students to learn from home under the authority of school districts. This focus began after a judge found that the law regarding correspondence school quotas was “drafted with the express purpose of permitting the purchase of private educational services in public correspondence school quotas.” . Under the state constitution, public funds cannot be disbursed “for the direct benefit of a religious or other private educational institution.”

Lawmakers passed a bill with provisions aimed at providing stability for correspondence students while the lawsuit continues.

“The idea is to give some peace and calm to 22,000 students who don’t know what’s going to happen,” House Speaker Kathy Tilton (R) told reporters early Thursday. Ta.

underground carbon storage

The second of two bills proposed by Dunleavy as a way to capitalize on companies with carbon emissions reduction targets has passed, allowing the state to store carbon dioxide underground to tap into the pore space of aging gases. It has become possible to establish systems and protocols for this purpose. or oil fields such as Cook Inlet and the North Slope.

Lawmakers last year passed Dunleavy’s bill, which would allow the state to launch carbon sequestration projects or lease federal land to third parties who want to develop carbon projects. Draft regulations for the offset program were released in March.

Dunleavy previously touted the bill as a new way for Alaska to generate billions of dollars in new revenue while allowing the state to embrace fossil fuel production and other resource extraction such as logging and coal production. However, the revenue impact of the proposal remains speculative.

To cover government spending, the state relies heavily on oil revenues and earnings from Negomori, an oil wealth fund grown through investment. Lawmakers have been reluctant to raise taxes on industries like oil, and Alaska, a state of about 737,000 people, has no statewide sales or personal income tax.

Rebecca Noblin is the director of policy and justice for a group called Native Movement. In written testimony this month on the underground carbon storage bill, he said the measure would “allow oil and gas companies and coal-fired power plants to inject carbon from their operations into the ground” and “increase pollution.” , it costs the state money and is a distraction to society.” Real solutions to climate change. ”

energy

The carbon bill, HB50, also includes provisions that supporters say could encourage increased gas production in Cook Inlet. So-called reserve-based lending allows banks to issue loans against a borrower’s oil and gas fields, proven reserves and other assets as collateral. The bill would allow the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, a state corporation, to finance projects it deems necessary to boost production.

Residents of Alaska’s most populous region rely on gas from the aging Cook Inlet basin. However, gas availability remains a concern and was the focus of this session. In February, Hilcorp Alaska’s senior vice president, Luke Saugier, told lawmakers that the company is “not backing down” on its investment in Cook Inlet and is working to develop a lease, but that it will hold the property under a lease. He said gas cannot meet all of the region’s needs. gas demand. He said other energy sources are needed.

Sen. Bill Wilechowski, an Anchorage Democrat, said the loan provision would allow access to gas fields and could ultimately be “one of the most important things we’ve done this year.” Stated.

Dunleavy’s office also praised the passage of another bill that it said would streamline tax and tariff policies “to make new and existing power generation projects more affordable.”

“This will encourage independent power producers to move forward with renewable power projects such as solar and wind power along rail lines,” his office said in a statement.

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dividend

The amount of annual dividends paid to residents is often one of the main points of contention, giving rise to long sessions and special sessions. But there was little pushback this year, with lawmakers agreeing to a dividend of about $1,360 and an energy relief payment of $295.

Legislative leaders pointed to improving communication and balancing priorities, including what Republican Rep. Delena Johnson, the House finance co-chair, called a “solid” state infrastructure budget.

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