The special election primary is scheduled for June 11th and the general election for the open seat is on August 16th. The primary will be done entirely vote-by-mail, a first for the State of Alaska. According to the Division of Elections, the reasoning for mail ballots is that the state will not have time to hire the necessary poll workers for the June 11th election.
Even though the primary ballot will be sent to all Alaskans in the mail, there will also be opportunities for in-person voting at locations to be announced in the future.
Stay tuned and make sure you are informed on the new method of voting and the special elections coming up.
Standing with Ukraine
After much pushing, Governor Dunleavy has now introduced a bill to divest Alaska's investments in Russia, Senate Bill 235. The problem is, it leaves out the vast majority of Alaska investments in Russia from the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation (APFC), $215 million, and the Alaska Retirement Management Board (ARMB), $93.5 million. That is $308.5 million total in Russian investments that Dunleavy's bill ignores. The bill as currently written only divests $7.4 million of Department of Revenue investments in Russia contained in the state's general fund.
Previously, I sent a memo to Governor Dunleavy identifying specific Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation investments in the Russian military-industrial complex. This memo was compiled by my staff member, Keegan Farone, who has a background in military operations intelligence.
Our research shows that Permanent Fund Russian investments involve 17 different oligarchs and Senior Russian Political Leaders directly tied to the U.S. Department of the Treasury sanction list set out by presidential executive order.
The data collected in our memo comes directly from the Permanent Fund Public Holding by Country FY21 document and from the U.S. Treasury List of Russian Leaders and Oligarchs.
I urge Governor Dunleavy to take concrete steps to divest Alaskan investments from Russia.
I was proud to introduce Rhianna Gay and Jennifer Marshall on the Senate floor, two constituents from my district. Rhianna is a teacher at Creekside Elementary and Jennifer is an advocate for other disabled veterans who were hurt in combat.
Senate Joint Resolution 12 urges Congress to repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO) of the Social Security Act. The WEP cuts the Social Security benefits of public employees in Alaska if they switch between work in the public sector and private sector or the military. In 2021, this loss could be as much as $512 per month, or more than $6,000 a year.
The GPO cuts spousal or widows’ benefits for public employees for no reason other than their work time in the public sector. This cut could amount to as much as 2/3rds the value of the individual’s government pension.
Because Alaska is one of few states that no longer provides a defined benefit plan and does not offset coverage by Social Security, the WEP and GPO affect more Alaskans per capita than in any other state. Public employees in Alaska are essentially punished for choosing to work in public service. The WEP and GPO negatively impact the recruitment and retention of Alaska public employees like firefighters, police officers, and teachers. Those who do not want to be subject to these provisions will simply look elsewhere for employment. Punishing individuals for choosing public service runs counter to retaining dedicated Alaskan workers and recruiting the best of the best to and within Alaska. Passage of SJR 12 will demonstrate that the Alaska Legislature opposes arbitrary and unfair cuts to the rightfully earned Social Security benefits of Alaskans.
SJR 12 has passed the Senate and House Labor of Commerce. It is now waiting to be scheduled for a vote on the House floor.
Last year I filed Senate Bill 25, the Alaska Online Checkbook Act. The intent of the Online Checkbook Act is to create a free, searchable database that provides Alaskans with easy web access to comprehensive and detailed information on state spending, in the interest of transparency and accountability. This will encourage a better understanding of the state budget and ultimately help ensure that funding is directed to the state's most important needs.
SB 25 passed the Senate with unanimous support and look forward to the bill moving from the House State Affairs Committee soon.
Senate Bill 161 was introduced at the encouragement of one of my constituents who has worked with third parties for several years. This bill adjusts the definition of an official political party to be 5,000 members per year instead of the current complicated and inconsistent definition. This fix will allow political parties to know their goal to be officially recognized by the State of Alaska.
Senate Bill 161 unanimously passed the Senate last week and I look forward to seeing similar support in the House.
Recently, I was invited to speak to the AFL-CIO about legislative priorities.
I am happy to see the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) listen to my advice and issue a decision regarding the Pikka project's road access. After a direct meeting with DNR and raising the issue in the Senate Finance Committee months ago, I demanded an immediate solution from the administration so Oil Search can get this project to market.
For background, the Pikka project on the North Slope is one of the most promising oil projects in Alaska. It is being developed by Oil Search and would put 80,000 barrels of oil into the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and create hundreds of good jobs. It is not being blocked by the federal government or President Joe Biden, but rather by a competitor, Conoco-Phillips, who is demanding Oil Search pay them an absurd $600 million to cross the land Conoco-Phillips leases from the State. Without guaranteed road access, Oil Search cannot proceed with its final investment decision for the first phase of the Pikka project. Conoco-Phillips has also filed comments opposing Oil Search's application for a seawater plant permit.
When an oil company takes out a lease in Alaska it obtains the exclusive SUBSURFACE rights - not exclusive rights to cross the land. I am satisfied with the state's decision granting Oil Search access to cross state lands and I believe it's the only reasonable solution.
Conoco Phillips can still appeal this decision but we are confident that the reasonable request for access is in the best interest of the state and will move forward.
Thank you to everyone who joined me in advocating for this important issue.
As always please give me a call or send me an email with any questions or concerns.
Alaska Senate Democrats | Capitol Building, 4th Avenue & Main Street, Juneau, AK 99801