From Sen. Tom Begich <[email protected]>
Subject Draw The Line (Aerosmith)
Date August 31, 2021 11:35 PM
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Updates on the Special Session, Budget, and Redistricting SUBSCRIBE ‌ ‌ Dear Friends and Neighbors, By now, you’ve probably read that things are a series of fits and starts in Juneau. At the beginning of the special session, the Fiscal Policy Working Group introduced their recommendations. There’s a lot on their list that isn’t new, but a few things really stand out as a responsible way to get our state’s finances headed in a stable direction. Now, it’s time for the hard work. Our regular and deliberative leadership meetings amongst the four caucus leaders and the Governor’s office focus on how to make a fiscal policy work for Alaska. Discussions continue to be illuminating as we work our way to figure out how to ensure the needs of Alaskans are met and the state fulfills its constitutional obligations. I don’t pretend to say that it's all downhill from here. There are still the issues of the reverse sweep, the 2021 PFD, school bond debt reimbursement, and per barrel oil tax credit reductions. But, If we can’t come together and figure this out now, Alaska is definitely in for a rough road. I’ve started two new columns in this newsletter. The first is my attempt to answer your frequent questions about the state’s budget. I promise to do my best, but the issues are complex, so please bear with me and don’t hesitate to send me more questions or comments at [email protected] There’s a lot of resources out there on the state budget, and I encourage you to keep reading, keep learning, and keep testifying on what matters to you. My second new column is on redistricting. Every ten years, every person in the U.S. is counted by the Census, and new legislative districts are drawn. With the release of this decennial census data on August 12, Alaska’s constitutional countdown to final district maps has been triggered. As things progress, keep up-to-date with me – here in my newsletter and also in a series of online discussions I plan to host about redistricting. Thank you again for your continued support and your engagement. All my best, Senator Tom Begich Senate District J The State Budget The state budget and any future fiscal plan has dominated the news and legislative hearings for many years. Today, I am going to try and break down a couple of the main questions I receive regarding the state budget. I’m not going to shy away from the tough questions, and I will do my best to present all the considerations that I’m taking into account when deciding how to vote. I’ll work on getting everything answered, but I don’t doubt additional questions will come up as time goes on. As always, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask me anything directly. I’ll do my best to get you a speedy response. Where does the state receive and expend revenue? Just like your household, the state earns income. Notwithstanding federal funds that come in for health, highways, education and other areas of the budget, for the state, earned income comes from taxes and fees assessed on businesses and people using state resources to make their own money. For most of our state’s history, we’ve depended on petroleum taxes to make up a bulk of our state’s earned income, though now earnings from the Permanent Fund have become our largest income source. The Alaska Department of Revenue comes out with a revenue forecast twice a year, projecting how much the state anticipates receiving from investments, petroleum, and other non-petroleum sources (like state parking pass fees). Each year, by December 15, the Governor is required to submit the upcoming budget to the legislature for consideration. The legislature reviews the Governor’s recommendations, but ultimately, the legislature is responsible for appropriating the state’s revenue. I encourage you to visit the Legislative Finance and Budget website to learn about the entire budget process, check out the review and analysis of the Governor’s proposed budgets (going back to FY1986), and there’s always the staff’s favorite: the Swiss Army Knife Guide to Budgets. Why does the state budget look like it does? As I mentioned above, every year, by December 15, the Governor is required to submit a budget to the legislature for consideration. The Governor’s budget is based on the previous year’s actual expenditures – money the state has to spend because of our constitutional obligations - public education, public safety, public health, etc. There are also federal obligations the state has to pay for – like Medicaid services, settlements from legal cases, etc. The state also is a major driver of our economy. The money the state spends on parks and roads means a stronger tourism industry and more young people staying in Alaska to work because they have a higher quality of life.  Now, here’s the rub: Since Fiscal Year 2013, the state has cut the budget from $7.8 billion to $4.5 billion. This is a 43% reduction in state spending since 2013. We’re all feeling it. Roads are not getting plowed as often, latrines on state parkland are showing high wear, there’s been fee increases at our state’s Pioneer Homes. We’re at a difficult point in our history. In Fiscal Year 2012, the state earned about $10 billion almost entirely from petroleum revenue. Today, that’s not the case. If we continue cutting the budget, it will damage the state’s economy today – which means more people will leave, fewer people will want to move here, and our businesses and communities will suffer. Next time…questions about the Permanent Fund and the Permanent Fund Dividend. It's that time again...REDISTRICTING Every ten years, the federal government counts every person living within its borders through the official annual Census. One result of this count is that we are required to ensure our legislative districts are redesigned to reflect shifts in population and to ensure they are as equal in size in population as they can be. This process, called redistricting or reapportionment, determines the legislative districts for the coming decade.  At its most simple, redistricting is the process of dividing the population into districts. Each district then gets to elect a representative to state government and subsequently the federal government. As Alaska has less than 800,000 people, our entire state is considered one district for federal purposes. What does it take to create a good map? Maps get made based on a series of state constitutional and federal criteria. The state’s constitutional criteria include ensuring districts are socio-economically integrated, that they are compact, and that they are contiguous. Mapping must also take into consideration federal guidelines. This means meeting requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which ensures non-discriminatory efforts in redistricting. And finally, once we have met those criteria, we can consider other historical data, like former districts, etc. What do you mean by “Socio-Economic Integration?” Alaska statutes help define what is meant by socio-economic integration. In our state, we created a unique form of local government. Instead of counties we elected to develop boroughs. A borough is a voluntary association of Alaska residents that must by definition be socio-economically integrated. A vast part of the state remains in the “unorganized borough” at this point in time, but communities like Anchorage (which has formed a Municipality – another associational form of government provided by statute), Fairbanks, the Mat-Su Valley, the Kenai Peninsula, Juneau and other areas have formed boroughs. Similar to county government, boroughs may have incorporated cities within their boundaries, such as Fairbanks City in the Fairbanks North Star Borough or the cities of Kenai and Soldotna in the Kenai Peninsula Borough, or Wasilla and Palmer in the Mat-Su Borough. Regardless, though, our law is clear: you cannot form a borough unless you show that the borough shares common socio-economic characteristics. Cities within boroughs which have power of taxation or elect their local government are also considered by our courts to be socio-economically integrated and provide an additional layer of consideration when drawing legislative lines. Where possible a city within a borough should not be split between House or Senate districts if it might maintain such a district. Okay, so what is compactness? Compactness is a way of ensuring, where practical, that districts generally appear visually consistent. Alaska has odd census blocks though, so, at times, we might have an odd river boundary or other anomaly. These complicate compactness, but the main reason for this measure is to ensure that a reapportionment board isn’t distorting a map for political purposes. What about other items? Why do we need to meet the requirements of the Voting Rights Act? The federal law under the Voting Rights Act is designed to preserve minority voices. This is especially important in a state that is one of the most diverse in the nation, and, like ours, has had a documented history of racial discrimination. What is contiguity? This is an Alaskan constitutional criteria for reapportionment which ensures that House and Senate districts are not separated by other House and Senate districts and thus have integrity – this also helps meet the compactness criteria. Why do districts have to be near the same number in population? This ensures that we meet federal guidelines that protect the value of a vote. Supreme Court decisions (Baker v. Carr is the most important) established one person one vote criteria for state legislative seats (House and Senate) to ensure no one area would dominate geographically, but that population would be the guide. This is different from the federal criteria for U.S. Senate and House seats. In those instances the House is somewhat bound to a range of similarity, but Senate Seats are equal for every state (two each). At the state level our Supreme Court has held us to a very strict criteria where rural seats may only deviate from the mean by +/- 5% and urban seats by +/- .5%. Dear Friends and Neighbors, A close friend of mine is in the middle of the vaccine wars. I’m going to tell you her story like it was a “Dear Abbey” only it’s going to be a “Dear Kayla” letter. Dear Kayla, My three sisters (all senior citizens) are not as healthy as I am. One of my sisters disappeared for around fifty years and now that she is found is not in good shape at all. Her daughter is so excited to have family for the first time in her life that she wants to know us and she wants us to get together while her mother is still with us. I am not willing to travel to the East Coast with the current Delta situation even though I am fully vaccinated. My other sisters, who I have been in touch with all these years, are also vaccinated and do not want to get together with their unvaccinated children, nieces and nephews. It’s a sad generation gap. So far only one nephew got vaccinated...required by his job. The latest thing to happen was a fight between a mother and daughter, my sister and her daughter. My niece listed a litany of instances where Black people were horribly misused in the name of experimental medical science and her mother had no right to tell her she had to get a vaccine. My sister was shouting back that her daughter could be asymptomatic and ‘get out of my house before you kill me’. Lots of shouting and no listening. Now my sisters want me to talk to my niece as I am “the favorite aunt.” I don’t think I can convince her because no one is listening. What’s your take. Sincerely, I Feel Lost Dear "I Feel Lost," I’m trying to come from a place of judgment. I’ve read the surveys and Democrats are likely to overestimate the possibility that they will get COVID and have dire consequences and Republicans are likely to underestimate the same. And I can see logic on both sides but, of course, I see my own logic as more clear, open to the facts, and substantiated. We all do. But here is a truth that is easy to forget…you can’t force an adult do what you think is best for them unless you are Britney Spears’ father (I’m not taking sides—just saying). Even if you see a train wreck ahead, be it heartache or death, logic, threats, shouting, and tears…usually a waste. That’s a conversation you can have with your sister. You can also point out that since she’s vaccinated there is little chance COVID will kill her. As for your niece, no matter what she believes, her mother believes she’s in mortal danger just being in the same room as her daughter. She won’t be able to change her mother’s opinion and rather than cause bad feelings, as in ‘Why does my daughter want me dead?,” she should just keep their visits by phone and Zoom until one of them changes their opinion, even if that’s forever. There doesn’t seem to be much movement of vaccinated people wishing they hadn’t done it and the flow is the other way. This is what seems to be making people change their minds: their friends and family getting vaccinated without apparent harm while the number of people dying without the vaccine keeps rising. If the daughter considered how her White mother and her White aunts, and so many White people she trusts wanted to get safe by having the vaccine, she might think otherwise. Believe me, there were no White people bribing their way into getting syphilis for the Tuskegee study on Black men, but people in the beginning of the COVID vaccinations were bribing medical staff to put them in front of the line. Better yet, I Feel Lost, sit this one out. These discussions are polarizing and you won’t make a difference except to alienate those you want to help. Hopefully your sister and her child will figure their way out for themselves over time. Keep Strong. Keep Safe. Kayla Contact Me! (907) 465-3704 (Juneau / session) (907) 269-0169 (Anchorage / interim) [email protected] ‌ ‌ Sen. Tom Begich | State Capitol Building, 120 4th St, Room 11, Juneau, AK 99801 Unsubscribe [email protected] Update Profile | Constant Contact Data Notice Sent by [email protected]
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