JKT Briefs Rotary On State, Fellows

Category: Local News
Created on Thursday, 09 July 2020 15:28

Sentinel Staff Writer

Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins said the early adjournment of the Alaska Legislature – a result of the coronavirus pandemic – led to “legal gymnastics” when it came to allocating CARES Act funding.

“COVID-19 has created a certain amount of chaos in the legislative process, as it has for the rest of society,” Kreiss-Tomkins said Tuesday in a videoconference meeting with the Sitka Rotary Club

Kreiss-Tomkins was asked to join the club’s weekly Zoom call, where he gave updates on legislative business and the Outer Coast and Alaska Fellows programs.

Kreiss-Tomkins said the spring legislative session was the shortest in state history, and that the early adjournment was “motivated by COVID-19.”

The Legislature is responsible for appropriating funds. Kreiss-Tomkins said that passage of the CARES Act by Congress led to attempts by some in the Legislature to apportion the funds without reconvening for an in-person session.

“There was a lot of cash ... the federal government deposited on Alaska’s doorstep through the CARES Act,” he said.

The Legislature eventually reconvened in May in a 48-hour special session to parcel out the money, Kreiss-Tomkins said.

He fielded questions from Rotarians, including Dan Jones, who asked about broad-based revenue to augment the states’s declining oil income.

Kreiss-Tomkins said an effort to pass an income tax was made by the House during the Walker administration. The bill didn’t pass the Senate, which Kreiss-Tomkins said was more conservative at the time.

Kreiss-Tomkins said then-Gov. Walker had made it clear he would sign broad-based revenue into law, but that the Senate made that impossible.

Now, even if passed by both legislative chambers, broad-based revenue would face a veto by Gov. Dunleavy.

“As long as Dunleavy is in office, I’m not sure (broad-based) revenue is going to pass,” Kreiss-Tomkins said.

Rotarian Kari Lundgren asked about the ferry system.

“Is there any hope?” she asked.

Kreiss-Tomkins replied that there is – “just not a lot of it.”

He explained that the disarray in the Alaska Marine Highway System is the result of many factors, including different systems of operation favored by different gubernatorial administrations.

“When you have a new governor coming in every six or eight years and that governor’s commissioner of transportation has a very different vision of what the ferry system should be ... it’s no way to run a system of infrastructure,” he said.

 Kreiss-Tomkins said Gov. Dunleavy has worked against legislators from coastal Alaska who have been working on ways to improve the ferry system.

“Southeast Conference raised its own funding – the City of Sitka contributed to that effort – last year to propose an overhaul and reform of the ferry system,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “The governor and (Transportation) Commissioner MacKinnon have not worked with regional stakeholders like Southeast Conference and Southwest Conference and have thrown that work out the window.”

Kreiss-Tomkins also reported on Outer Coast and Alaska Fellows programs, both of which he helped found.

The Alaska Fellows program – which launched in Sitka in 2014 – brings recent college graduates to Sitka, Anchorage, and Juneau to work with government and nonprofit organizations such as the U.S. Forest Service and Sitka Counseling.

The program is nine months long and brings about eight young people to Sitka each winter.

Kreiss-Tomkins said despite the complications caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Fellows plan on coming to Alaska as usual this fall.

In addition to the Sitka, Juneau and Anchorage sites, the program was going to launch in Fairbanks this year, but the Fairbanks program has been postponed until 2021.

Outer Coast is an educational program aiming to become a two-year college, beginning in the fall of 2022. Kreiss-Tomkins said organizers are gearing up for their first year-round program.

Like the Fellows program, Outer Coast is planning to host an in-person program this fall.

Outer Coast recently received institutional authorization from the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education. Kreiss-Tomkins described this achievement as a “regulatory box” that the program needed to check in order to begin its year-round educational program. 

He said the authorization is a step needed for the program to become a college, as well.

Outer Coast is presently holding its third annual summer seminar, which is being run virtually through August 1. 

Along with the virtual summer seminar, Outer Coast is providing free online Tlingit language classes. The classes are open to all and run weeknights 7-8:30 p.m. A full schedule and registration can be found at outercoast.org/tlingit.