- Session Laws
Senate FINANCE Minutes
SENATE FINANCE COMMITTEE
April 10, 2007
CALL TO ORDER
Co-Chair Lyman Hoffman convened the meeting at approximately
Senator Lyman Hoffman, Co-Chair
Senator Bert Stedman, Co-Chair
Senator Charlie Huggins, Vice Chair
Senator Joe Thomas
Senator Donny Olson
Senator Kim Elton
Also Attending: Testifiers are listed in the body of the minutes
in the order they testified.
HB 95-APPROP: OPERATING BUDGET/LOANS/FUNDS
HB 96-APPROP: MENTAL HEALTH BUDGET
The Committee heard testimony on the proposed budget
appropriations from residents of Juneau, Sitka, Wrangell, Homer,
Petersburg, Dillingham, Cordova and Fairbanks. The bills were
held in Committee.
CS FOR HOUSE BILL NO. 95(FIN)
"An Act making appropriations for the operating and loan
program expenses of state government, for certain programs,
and to capitalize funds; making appropriations under art.
IX, sec. 17(c), Constitution of the State of Alaska; and
providing for an effective date."
CS FOR HOUSE BILL NO. 96(FIN)
"An Act making appropriations for the operating and capital
expenses of the state's integrated comprehensive mental
health program; and providing for an effective date."
This was the second hearing for these bills in the Senate
Co-Chair Hoffman announced testimony would be taken on the
proposed FY 08 operating and mental health appropriations. He
requested testimony be limited to two minutes per person to
allow each person an opportunity to be heard.
Testifying in Juneau:
Co-Chair Hoffman invited Senator Elton, representing Senate
District B covering the greater Juneau area, to lead the
following portion of the meeting.
BRENDA TAYLOR, Parent of two children enrolled at the Juneau
Community Charter School testified in appreciation of funding
provided for charter schools. She detailed the benefits of
charter school programs. She introduced others present who also
support funding for charter schools.
KELLI DINDINGER, Alaska Travel Adventures, testified that she
was raised in Juneau and that Alaska Travel Adventures is family
owned and operated. She spoke of the benefits of the tourism
industry and she indicated others present who also support
tourism. The benefits of the tourism industry are not limited to
economic and philanthropic contributions, but also the
opportunity the industry provides to local youth in teaching
work ethic and responsibility. She expressed, "Tourism is a
valuable resource and we need to invest in it."
LINDSEY FORREST, President, Student Government, University of
Alaska Southeast, testified that the Board of Regents submitted
a proposed FY 08 budget, which was significantly reduced. An
amendment has been submitted to rectify this by providing
funding for maintenance, retention of professor positions,
research programs and other important needs. She urged the
adoption of the amendment.
KEVIN SKEEK, Representing the University of Alaska Southeast
Student Government, testified to request full funding for the
University of Alaska. Record snowfall affected all Alaskans
during recent months and that snowfall was caused by global
warming, which must be researched further. Fully funding the
University would allow for more educated residents and
subsequently better informed decisions.
WILLIAM ANDREWS, Student, Former Student Body President,
University of Alaska Southeast, testified that he was initially
opposed to a proposal to increase tuition. His opinion changed
when he realized the benefits would include expanded programs.
Failure to adequately fund the University would impact the level
of education. He understood the limited funding available for
multiple needs, as well as the reality of declining oil
production. He appreciated the difficult decisions the Committee
must make about distribution of funding.
HEATHER SWANSON, Employee, University of Alaska Southeast, and
President, Staff Council Alliance, testified that her children
would attend the University of Alaska because she knows
firsthand the quality of the education provided. The Staff
Council Alliance represents over 200 University employees from
Southeast communities. She remarked that the "University of
Alaska is working hard to enhance peoples' curiosities," and
stressed "we need to trust the Board of Regents to make the best
possible decisions for us."
PAM MUELLER-GUY, Southeast Alaska Independent Living (SAIL),
testified that the organization for six years has helped people
succeed in every aspect of their lives. She listed many of the
services offered and the subsequent positive results. She was
uncertain of her current situation were it not for the
assistance of SAIL.
Senator Elton requested a copy of the witness' written
BECKY HARRINGTON had testimony read on her behalf by Ms.
Mueller-Guy. Ms. Harrington was a recipient of the services of
SAIL. More training is necessary to differentiate which efforts
are successful and should be expanded.
MIKE COONEY, Alaska Canopy Adventures, and 11-year Juneau
resident testified that he has worked in the tourism industry
for all of those 11 years. This industry has enabled him to
purchase a home and "earn a living".
ERIC SCHOLTZ, Temsco Helicopters, and Secretary, Alaska Tourism
Industry Association, and resident of Douglas, testified that he
worked on cruise ships prior to relocating to Alaska. He spoke
to the funding requested for the Alaska Tourism Industry
Association (ATIA). Temsco hires approximately 75 youths during
the summer months, providing them an opportunity to earn money
and to gain work experience. He requested increased funding for
the ATIA to expend for marketing efforts.
GEORGE REIFENSTEIN, General Manager, Mt. Roberts Tramway,
Goldbelt, Inc., testified in support of funding for the ATIA. He
highlighted his career in the tourism industry cumulating with
the seasonal employment of his two daughters. The Tramway
employs approximately 75 fulltime seasonal employees. Although
the Tramway has a marketing budget, it is insufficient to extend
to the emerging marketplace.
BOB WYSOUKI, President and Chief Executive Officer, Huna Totem
Corporation, testified that the primary industry of the
Corporation is the Icy Point destination. The Corporation hires
Native Alaskans almost exclusively. Funding for the ATIA is not
about cruise ships but about economic opportunities for
Alaskans. Funding for ATIA is necessary to reach emerging
EMILY NENON, Government Relations Liaison, Alaska Chapter,
American Cancer Society, testified to the health damage
resulting from tobacco use as well as concerns regarding the
risks of obesity.
ART PETERSON, Board of Directors, Retired, Alaska Legal Services
(ALS) Commission, and Attorney, expressed appreciation for the
funding for the ALS recommended by the budget subcommittee. The
need for legal advice has continued despite elimination of
funding by former Governor Frank Murkowski. Mr. Peterson hoped
that the proposed funding for FY 08 would be retained.
Co-Chair Hoffman established that no other testifiers in Juneau
were present to testify.
AT EASE 3:47:27 PM / 4:42:56 PM
Testifying from Homer, Dillingham, Sitka, Wrangell, Petersburg
Co-Chair Hoffman invited Co-Chair Stedman, representative of
Senate District A, to lead the following portion of the meeting
in which testimony from Southeast communities and other
locations would be heard.
BOB MOORE, 38-year resident of Homer, and educator, testified
via teleconference from Homer about his involvement in the
University of Alaska. He requested funding to cover the "fixed
costs" of the University. This funding would promote education
and every community in the state would benefit.
ROSE HEYANO, Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation, testified via
teleconference from Dillingham about the nine communities in the
region that have community health centers. These centers offer
access to health care to all regardless of ability to pay.
Charges are assessed according to the patient's ability to pay
and cannery employees receive care with the costs deducted
directly from their paychecks. The centers provide care to the
most remote areas of the State. This is important given high
transportation costs. Community Health Centers need funding from
the State as well as reimbursement from Medicaid. She relayed
the circumstances of a woman diagnosed with cervical cancer who
had been unable to afford preventative care, such as pap smears,
that could have identified her illness sooner and subsequently
incurred lower Medicaid costs.
ERIC HOLLAND, Deputy Director, Behavioral Health Department,
Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation, testified via
teleconference from Dillingham in support for funding of Alaska
Legal Services (ALS). In his experience working with the local
ALS office, he learned of the funding needs of the organization.
Many clients of behavioral health services also are in need of
VALERIE MCCANDLESS, Mayor, City of Wrangell, testified via
teleconference from Wrangell to the needs of all communities in
the state. These needs include funding for education and public
broadcasting. Additionally municipal revenue sharing is also
important. She commented that the resources of Alaska are
intended for all Alaskans.
ANGIE NEWBY, Real Estate Broker, testified via teleconference
from Homer to the importance of tourism to the local real estate
market. Many home buyers first came to the State as visitors;
some via cruise ships, but most as independent travelers. She
expressed shame that other states invest 50 percent more in
tourism than the state of Alaska does.
CONNIE SIPE, Center for Community, testified via teleconference
from Sitka that the organization has been serving elderly
residents of Sitka and outlying communities. Governor Palin's
proposed budget indicates a $16.5 million savings in the
personal care attendant program as a result of better
administration of the program. However, the rates had not been
increased since 1988 with the hourly rate remaining at $21. This
is compared to the 30 percent salary increases awarded to health
care workers in other programs administered by the State.
CINDY EDWARDS, Sitka Resident, testified via teleconference from
Sitka to encourage funding for public broadcasting. She along
with many in her community relies on public broadcasting for
news and other services.
MARCO DAPCEVICH, Mayor, City of Sitka, testified via
teleconference from Sitka, to encourage retention of funding for
municipal revenue sharing as proposed in the committee
Co-Chair Stedman informed that the Committee was addressing the
unfunded liability of the Public Employees Retirement System
(PERS) and the Teachers Retirement System (TRS), in addition to
municipal revenue sharing.
DAVE NIVINS, Sitka Convention and Visitors Bureau, testified via
teleconference from Sitka on behalf of the over 200 members of
the organization. The Bureau benefits from the funding provided
to the AITA. Tourism is a major industry in Sitka.
TIM JOYCE, Mayor, City of Cordova, testified via teleconference
from an offnet site in Cordova in support of municipal revenue
sharing for Cordova and other communities. The City had relied
on this funding for maintenance and other services until that
funding was eliminated. Subsequently, the City was unable to
afford basic maintenance and as a result many facilities are in
poor condition. The resources of Alaska should be shared with
all. He commented to an earlier statement that State funding for
employers' PERS/TRS debt is tantamount to revenue sharing. He
disagreed. He also encouraged full funding for increased fuel
costs and for the Alaska Marine Highway System. Communities that
are not located along the road system rely on the ferry system.
PETER HOEPFNER, Member, Cordova School District, testified via
teleconference from an offnet location in Cordova about the
dedication of parents and the community to education. He cited
the proficiency levels of students and attributed this to the
quality of education provided. However, declining enrollment has
reduced funding and resulted in elimination of teaching staff
and subsequently increased class size. An elementary school in
the district needs funding to upgrade its outdated playground.
TINA DAY, Executive Director, Homer Chamber of Commerce,
testified via teleconference from Homer in support of funding
for the ATIA. Last year Homer had 150,000 visitors, and
continuing increases are anticipated. Many tourism businesses in
Homer are independently owned and rely on the ATIA for
promotion. She also spoke in favor of funding for the Kachemak
Bay Campus of the University of Alaska. Additionally $1 million
capital funding is needed for the South Peninsula Hospital
expansion. This hospital contributes $25.3 million to the local
economy. An increase in the senior citizen population of 38
percent is anticipated in the next ten years.
TED SMITH, Mayor, City of Petersburg, testified via
teleconference from Petersburg, in support of municipal revenue
sharing. Communities have assumed more financial responsibility
from the State in senior tax exemptions, road and harbor
maintenance, and other services. Petersburg levies sales and
property taxes. State funding for employers' portion of the
PERS/TRS unfunded liability is not equal to municipal revenue
AT EASE 5:16:56 PM / 5:17:55 PM
Testifying from Fairbanks (unless otherwise noted):
Co-Chair Hoffman invited Senator Thomas, representing Senate
District D, to lead this portion of the meeting in which
testimony was received from Fairbanks area residents.
KADEENE T LAMB testified that she had suffered a traumatic brain
injury. Access Alaska has assisted her in securing employment.
She requested a funding increase of $100,000 for the
GEORGE JOHNSTON HISAMOTO testified about the traumatic brain
injury he received as a result of a driver running a red light.
Access Alaska has assisted him in being able to live
independently. He exclaimed, "Thank God for Access Alaska."
RICHARD WEBB testified that he became legally blind several
years ago. He requested a $100,000 funding increase for
independent living centers, and amount similar to that provided
for FY 07. When people become disabled they need a "place to
turn". Many feel worthless although this is not the case.
Organizations such as the Alaska Center for the Blind and
Visually Impaired are important. The State would incur costs if
not through these programs, than from the monetary costs of drug
abuse, unemployment and depression.
LORETTA TONOIAN, Advocacy Board, Access Alaska, testified that
her pig farm had been destroyed by fire. After recovering from a
knee injury received in this incident she decided to rebuild her
farm. She got a job but re-injured her knee. Without the
services of Access Alaska she would have been unable to continue
living independently. She likely would have frozen to death were
funding to offset heating expenses not provided to her.
VICTOR MARTIN testified through an interpreter that he is deaf
and that interpreters are important to himself and to the
PAT MOSS stressed her personal interest in funding shortfalls to
the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The
facilities of Eielson Air Force Base are being utilized, and the
economy of Interior Alaska is continuing to grow. Trained
workers are needed.
ROB PERDUE, Golden Heart Projects, testified in support of a
funding request from the Department of Health and Social
Services for the detoxification facility. In the past several
years, the Project has improved the lives of many area
residents. No longer is Fairbanks a place to come to drink
excessively and these improvements must be maintained. Jail and
hospitalization is not a long term solution to alcohol abuse.
The tourism industry benefits from this program.
REGINA HORNE supported rural communities and testified in
opposition to the closing of four rural job centers. Mobile
centers are inadequate. Rural residents deserve the same
services as urban residents.
SCOTT REISLAND, fourth generation Alaskan, owner of two
recreational vehicle parks and President, Alaska Campground
Owners Association, testified in Juneau, to the need for
increased funding for ATIA. Campground use has declined over the
past several years and many locally owned operations are in
need. Tourism might be considered a non-vital State service, but
the industry provides economic benefits to the entire state.
Independent and smaller businesses are necessary, independent
travelers tend to stay longer and spend more money in the state.
Co-Chair Hoffman reiterated his request that testimony be
limited to two minutes.
DONDI JON COOK, Access Alaska, testified that he suffered brain
damage from an aneurism. Previously simple functions, such as
buying a bus token, have become difficult. An agency like Access
Alaska provides vital assistance in improving the quality of
life, as well as the quality of society as a whole.
DEB HICKOK President and Chief Executive Officer, Fairbanks
Convention and Visitors Borough, and Marketing Director, Alaska
Tourism Industry Association, testified in Juneau to request
funding for the independent marketing efforts of the ATIA. The
Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau serves as a model in
promoting independent travel to Alaska. One half of the visitors
to Fairbanks are independent travelers. The Bureau not only
books these visitors for local lodging and activities, but also
arranges for visitors to travel to more northerly destinations.
Additionally, the Bureau promotes winter travel to Alaska.
JACK WILBUR, KUAC, local public radio station testified in
support of the proposed funding for public broadcasting. Public
broadcasting is important to residents of Interior Alaska, as it
provides the only source of news and information to some remote
locations. He listed other programming available, including
programs targeted to children. Public broadcasting has wide bi-
partisan support locally and nationally.
JIM BURTON, Governor's Committee on Employment and
Rehabilitation of People with Disabilities, testified in Juneau
in support of funding for the Department of Labor and Workforce
Development. He has benefited from Department programs over
several years. He has medical conditions that affect his vision
and hearing. He has benefited from programs administered by the
Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, the National Center for
the Blind and other organizations. With the loss of his sight,
he was forced to retire from his profession as a Computer
Assisted Design (CAD) programmer and operator. He became an
instructor of computer operations at the Tanana Valley Campus of
the University of Alaska. As his hearing deteriorated, he began
to have difficulty in communicating with his students. The
Division provided him with equipment to assist with hearing,
thus allowing him to continue working. He spoke to the
importance of independent living.
DAVID VASTOLA, Pediatrician, and Medical Director, Community
Health Services, Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium
(SEARHC), testified via teleconference from Sitka, to the
importance of funding for community health centers. These
clinics serve the medically underserved: the underinsured and
the uninsured. He told of the assumption of operations in 1998
of the Lynn Canal Medical Center, located in Haines. The clinic
has expanded under the guidance of SEARHC enabling increased
access to health care services for more area residents.
Community health centers are recognized as highly efficient and
as providing significant cost savings to the State and federal
Medicaid program. He recommended the proposed $2.3 million
appropriation for community health centers.
TABOR REHBAUM, Arctic Alliance for People, testified to request
funding for the Human Services Community Matching Grant Program
at the level of the previous year. Alaska Legal Services and Big
Brothers/Big Sisters in Fairbanks have both been recipients of
this grant program, benefiting many residents.
WALTER SHERMAN testified to the services he has received through
Access Alaska, including bus passes and a cellular phone to use
in the event of emergency. He encouraged continued funding.
LEE KENASTON, 35-year Fairbanks resident, testified in support
in an increase in tourism funding. He works for a small tourism
business. Employment in tourism has paid for his college
education and now supports his family.
THOMAS BRIGGS-NASH, 17-years old, testified that Access Alaska
has assisted him with job training. He had difficulty with his
handwriting and the organization has helped him improve this
resulting in better school performance.
TRESHA NASH testified that her family was a "military family"
that chose to remain in Alaska after discharge. Her family
includes six special needs children. The eldest, Thomas Briggs-
Nash, has received services from Access Alaska and her younger
children would in the future.
DANIEL HOFFMAN, Chief, Fairbanks Police Department, and Member,
Golden Heart Project, testified that the community has been
forced to pay an unfair portion of the costs related to
alcoholism. He explained the process in which Alaskans in need
of detoxification care are directed to facilities with
vacancies. Facilities located in Anchorage are often at capacity
and subsequently many patients from other communities are sent
to Fairbanks. He therefore requested increased funding for the
Golden Heart Project "enhanced detox" facility.
MARJORIE GRUNIN, Member, Board of Directors, Hospice of the
Tanana Valley, testified in support of funding for the
organization which provides services for those living both
within and outside of the Fairbanks metropolitan area.
David Jacobson, Staff, Access Alaska, told of a brain tumor 25
years ago that prevented him from continuing employment in the
construction industry. Through the assistance of Access Alaska,
he was able to attend classes at the University of Alaska and
receive training in other fields. He also spoke to the
importance of the Personal Care Attendant program. This allows
people to continue to live in their homes and be a part of their
community. The rates paid to personal care attendants have not
increased for many years. Interpreter referral services are
essential for the integration of the deaf into the community.
ANDY HARRINGTON, Alaska Legal Services, thanked the Department
of Health and Social Services budget subcommittee for the
recommendation for funding Alaska Legal Services (ALS). ALS is
one program that had previously received State funding that had
been recently eliminated.
DANIEL DARNELL testified in support of keeping the Fairbanks job
training office open.
EUGENE EWIN testified through an interpreter that interpreters
are necessary to assist deaf Alaska Natives in jail.
MAGGIE MATOS testified through an interpreter to the importance
of interpreters for the deaf. More funding is needed for
interpreters in Alaska.
EMMA MORGAN testified through an interpreter to her need for
more interpreters for the deaf. They are needed for doctor
visits and other interactions.
RANDY BOWELL told of his disability received as a result of a
car accident. He has worked to improve services for disabled,
such as improved public transportation with sheltered areas at
bus stops. Programs like Access Alaska have received reduced
funding in recent years. He pledged to continue his efforts to
address the needs of those suffering traumatic brain injuries.
CORRINE BOWELL testified as the mother of a traumatic brain
injury survivor. Upon discharge from Providence Medical Center,
she was advised to contact Access Alaska for future services for
her child. Self esteem for a person with disabilities incurred
from an accident must be regained. Access Alaska, by offering
services and not passing judgment, assists significantly in this
MATT ATKINSON, Air Arctic, testified in support of funding for
the ATIA. Air operators rely on independent travelers and depend
on marketing dollars to draw travelers to the State.
GAYLE MALLOY BINKLEY, Hospice of Tanana Valley, supported
funding for hospice services. She described the services
provided by Hospice including assisting mothers who are ill and
have small children. Hospice of Tanana serves residents of many
KATHY HODGES, Northern Alaska Tour Company, testified that
funding for tourism should be provided, as it is a proven
investment with positive returns. Her employment in the industry
has allowed her to pay for college and it employs many others.
REBECCA BAILEY, Trans Arctic Circle Trek, and Student,
University of Alaska, testified requesting tourism funding.
Reinvesting some of the money generated by the State into
tourism would be beneficial to the industry.
ANNA FERRI, Arctic Outfitters, testified in support of
"Destination Alaska" tourism funding. This industry drew her and
many others back to the State.
KORY EBERHARDT, Student, testified that his family has owned and
operated A Taste of Alaska Lodge for 15 years, which depends
heavily on visitors to Alaska. He requested increased funding to
support the visitor industry utilizing tax revenues generated
from the industry. More than $20 million is necessary to counter
the decline in the number of independent travelers.
ERICKA WELD, Arctic Circle Trading Post, testified that she was
born and raised in Fairbanks. She asked the Committee to fully
fund the destination marketing efforts of the ATIA, as her job
depended on it.
KATHY THROSTAD, representing herself, testified via
teleconference from Fairbanks and shared the joy she receives
from her employment with the job training center and the service
it provides. It is vital to keep State jobs in Fairbanks.
ELYSE GUTTENBERG, Fairbanks Native Association, testified in
support of $500,000 in funding for the Fairbanks Behavioral
Health enhanced detoxification facility. The Association is
significantly involved in the Golden Heart Project coalition,
which has "worked for years to bring" detoxification services to
Interior Alaska. The coalition has secured the necessary capital
funding for the facility, but could not afford to staff the
increased beds or to service the combined mental health and
detoxification needs without State funding. The existing
detoxification unit has ten beds. However, the services the new
facility would provide would serve not only the Interior, but
also much of the northern region of the state.
TAMMIE WILSON, resident of North Pole, testified that as a
taxpayer she encouraged the Legislature to address the unfunded
liability of PERS and TRS. She also favored funding the
municipal revenue sharing program rather than funding for
capital projects. The Alaska Longevity Bonus program should be
DON THIBEDEAU, Hospice of the Tanana Valley, encouraged the
continued funding of the community matching grant program. His
family, which has been a part of the Fairbanks community since
1922, has been impacted by a number of agencies that receive
these grants. He had provided care for his grandmother and then
his mother in their final years. Resources are not always
available to provide support to loved ones as they age.
CHERYL KILGORE, Executive Director, Interior Community Health,
encouraged funding for community health centers, as the services
they provide are vital. She also requested increasing the
eligibility requirements of the Denali Kid Care program up to
200 percent of the federal poverty level.
KELLY BROWN, Alaska State Employees Association AFSCME Local 52,
spoke on behalf of State employees as well as the over 5,000
Alaska workers and business owners who had signed a petition
regarding proposed funding reductions to Department of Labor and
Workforce Development offices. These offices provide a myriad of
services to the community to both workers and employers. She
detailed these services.
BEV DUBE, 20-year Employee, Department of Labor and Workforce
Development testified to the proposal to phase out the
Unemployment Insurance office located in Fairbanks, laying off
three staff on June 30, 2007 and closing the office completely
on June 30, 2008. The workload would be shifted to one of the
two remaining offices in Anchorage and Juneau and additional
positions would be needed at those locations. Travel from those
offices would be necessary to provide the rapid response layoff
meetings required by federal regulations.
JAMES EASTERLING, Northern Alaska Tour Company, spoke in support
of funding for tourism.
Co-Chair Hoffman reviewed the week's public testimony schedule.
Co-Chair Lyman Hoffman adjourned the meeting at 6:50:41 PM