Stedman Puts Focus On Funds for Cities

By SHANNON HAUGLAND
Sentinel Staff Writer

Besides backfilling school bond debt, Sen. Bert Stedman says he is continuing to work on “fixing financial potholes created in the last couple of years” in the state budget.

“With the operating budget we have a couple of issues we’re working on and we’ll be done by May 18 – we hope,” he said.

Stedman represents Sitka, Wrangell, Petersburg, Ketchikan and other small Southeast communities, and is co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, in charge of the operating budget. In a brief interview with the Sentinel he said he’s hoping to put together an operating budget that adds $4 billion to the state’s statutory and constitutional budget reserves.

That should be possible even after covering hundreds of millions in the state’s unfunded school bond debt reimbursement going back to 2017; Department of Transportation projects around the state; deferred maintenance for schools, state buildings and university buildings; and forward funding of education funding for school districts.

“There are not a lot of individual district (capital) items in the budget,” he said. “The highest concentration is in deferred maintenance and increasing our liquidity. Our target is $4 billion.”

With the state’s stronger fiscal position mostly due to higher oil prices as well as the bipartisan trillion dollar infrastructure bill passed by Congress. Stedman would like to see some help go toward municipalities.

“We’re trying to not only heal the state but help municipalities as well,” he said.

Stedman said the debate on the permanent fund dividend seems to be headed toward an agreement, with both House and Senate concurring on a $2,600 per person payout this year. There are some differences of opinion on a straight payout versus a combination of dividend and oil rebate, to offset the rise in prices.

But he added it’s too soon to say the debate is over, since the operating budget has not yet reached the floor of the Senate.

“Anything can happen,” he said. After the Senate votes on the budget, it goes to conference committee, where members of House and Senate iron out differences before a final vote.

Stedman said he’s keeping his eye on other legislation that could help Sitka, particularly in funding the Marine Highway System, how Sitka will handle the energy load of the new Mt. Edgecumbe Medical Center and looking into whether it makes sense to make Mt. Edgecumbe High School part of the Regional Educational Attendance Area schools  instead of directly under the State Board of Education. Stedman said this may be a better route toward funds to build the needed additional classrooms, and help with maintenance costs. 

Of construction projects in general, Stedman said. “We’re trying to get existing projects done before we create a bunch of new projects. That’s why we’re dealing with deferred maintenance.”

Worst case scenario, Stedman added, is starting new projects – such as the haulout, hydro and intertie expansions – that the state can’t afford to finish, if and when oil prices drop again. Stedman also talked about some discussions under way about how the state could reduce carbon emissions by facilitating electric connections to cruise ships while they are in port.

“We’re working on it – it’s ‘coming attractions,’” he said.

This morning Stedman was in a joint session of the Legislature confirming Gov. Dunleavy’s appointments to state offices, and negotiating the operating budget with the House.

 

 

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AK COVID-19

At a Glance

(updated 11-29-22)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 12:15 pm Tuesday, November 29.

New cases as of Tuesday: 414

Total cases (cumulative) statewide – 286,561

Total (cumulative) deaths – 1,399

Total (cumulative) hospitalizations – 4,195

Case Rate per 100,000 – 56.8

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

COVID in Sitka

The Sitka community level is now "Low.'' Case statistics are as of Tuesday.

Case Rate/100,000 – 70.40

Cases in last 7 days – 6

Cumulative Sitka cases – 3,173

Hospitalizations (to date) – 31

Deceased (cumulative) – 10

The local case data are from Alaska DHSS.

 

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20 YEARS AGO

December 2002

 Alaska Native Sisterhood will hold a Christmas bazaar Dec. 7 at the ANB Hall. Isabella’s famous clam chowder and fry bread also will be for sale.

 

50 YEARS AGO

December 1972

Photo caption: Presbyterian women of today wear costumes from 1877-1899 at Sunday’s service. From left are Alice Postell, Dorothy Streit, Gladys Whitmore, Carrie Maura, Harriet Hannigan, Eugenie Williams, Esther Littlefield, Isabel Miller, Marilyn Ryan, Esther Billman, Beverly Scholz, Gertie Zeiger, Marcia Strand and Betty Stratton. (Photo by Martin Strand)

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