Legislature(2005 - 2006)HOUSE FINANCE 519

04/05/2006 09:00 AM FINANCE


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* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
-- Time Change --
+ HB 51 EMPLOYER ASSN FOR WORKERS' COMP INS TELECONFERENCED
<Bill Hearing Postponed to 04/07/06>
+ HB 307 KNIK RIVER PUBLIC USE AREA TELECONFERENCED
Heard & Held
+ HB 387 TUITION WAIVER FOR NATIONAL GUARD FAMILY TELECONFERENCED
Heard & Held
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
                  HOUSE FINANCE COMMITTEE                                                                                       
                       April 5, 2006                                                                                            
                         9:16 a.m.                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
CALL TO ORDER                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair Meyer called the House  Finance Committee meeting to                                                                   
order at 9:16:39 AM.                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
MEMBERS PRESENT                                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
Representative Mike Chenault, Co-Chair                                                                                          
Representative Kevin Meyer, Co-Chair                                                                                            
Representative Bill Stoltze, Vice-Chair                                                                                         
Representative Richard Foster                                                                                                   
Representative Jim Holm                                                                                                         
Representative Reggie Joule                                                                                                     
Representative Mike Kelly                                                                                                       
Representative Beth Kerttula                                                                                                    
Representative Carl Moses                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
MEMBERS ABSENT                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
Representative Mike Hawker                                                                                                      
Representative Bruce Weyhrauch                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
ALSO PRESENT                                                                                                                  
Representative Bill Thomas; Representative  Eric Croft; Sarah                                                                   
Gilbertson,   Special   Assistant    to   the   Commissioner,                                                                   
Department  of   Fish  and   Game;  John  Cramer,   Director,                                                                   
Administration  Services  Division,   Military  and  Veterans                                                                   
Affairs.                                                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
PRESENT VIA TELECONFERENCE                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Charlotte  Sartor,  Matsu;  Brit  Lively,  Butte  Area  Civic                                                                   
Organization.                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
SUMMARY                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
HB 307    An Act creating the Knik River Public Use Area.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
          CS HB 307 (RES) was HEARD and HELD in the                                                                             
          Committee for further consideration.                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
HB 387    An Act  providing for a partial tuition  waiver for                                                                   
          families of  members of the Alaska  National Guard;                                                                   
          and directing the executive  director of the Alaska                                                                   
          Commission  on  Postsecondary   Education  to  seek                                                                   
          additional funding to support tuition waivers.                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
          HB 387 was HEARD and HELD in Committee for further                                                                    
          consideration.                                                                                                        
HOUSE BILL NO. 387                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
     An  Act  providing  for a  partial  tuition  waiver  for                                                                   
     families of  members of the  Alaska National  Guard; and                                                                   
     directing   the  executive   director   of  the   Alaska                                                                   
     Commission   on   Postsecondary    Education   to   seek                                                                   
     additional funding to support tuition waivers.                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
Representative Foster    MOVED   to  ADOPT  Work   Draft  24-                                                                   
LS1323\S, Mischel,  3/28/06.   There being NO  OBJECTION, the                                                                   
Committee Substitute was ADOPTED by unanimous consent.                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE BILL  THOMAS, SPONSOR discussed the  bill.  He                                                                   
explained  that his  office  had worked  on  the hunting  and                                                                   
fishing permit  portion of the  legislation.  He  stated that                                                                   
350 National Guard personnel had  been deployed to Iraq, with                                                                   
700 more  scheduled to depart  in the  future.  He  cited his                                                                   
personal  experience   as  a  military  veteran   serving  in                                                                   
Vietnam, and noted the helpful  nature of hunting and fishing                                                                   
activities  upon his  return  from duty.    He proposed  that                                                                   
hunting and fishing  licenses would be a helpful  service for                                                                   
departing military  personnel, and a good  will demonstration                                                                   
of appreciation for their service.                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
9:21:07 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Representative  Thomas stressed  that his  office had  worked                                                                   
with Representative Croft's office in crafting the bill.                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE  ERIC CROFT,  SPONSOR spoke  to the desire  of                                                                   
Alaskans to  show appreciation  for National Guard  Personnel                                                                   
serving in  Iraq.  He explained  the reason for  the combined                                                                   
bill  was that  multiple  legislators shared  similar  goals,                                                                   
which they decided to combine  into one bill.  He referred to                                                                   
the  bill as  "Alaska's  little  G.I. bill",  providing  free                                                                   
tuition to  returning service men  and women.  He  noted that                                                                   
due  to the  manner in  which  the federal  bill was  funded,                                                                   
sometimes  Alaskans were not  able to  take advantage  of the                                                                   
benefit, causing  a supplemental need.  He  proposed that the                                                                   
bill  would  guarantee  that  the  benefit  would  always  be                                                                   
available, having been paid to  the University, an obligation                                                                   
that  would be  retained by  the State.   He  also noted  the                                                                   
fifty  percent educational  benefit  added for  spouses.   He                                                                   
discussed how  difficult the absence  of Guard  personnel was                                                                   
on  spouses, and  expressed  that the  benefit  was meant  to                                                                   
offset this burden for them.                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
9:24:36 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Representative  Thomas noted  that  the Committee  Substitute                                                                   
eliminated  an  educational  benefit for  children  of  Guard                                                                   
personnel  contained in the  original bill.   He stated  that                                                                   
the benefit  was more  essential to  spouses of absent  Guard                                                                   
personnel.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
9:25:39 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
SARAH  GILBERTSON,  SPECIAL ASSISTANT  TO  THE  COMMISSIONER,                                                                   
DEPARTMENT  OF FISH AND  GAME testified  regarding the  bill.                                                                   
She expressed  concerns about the bill, recognizing  its good                                                                   
intensions, but focused on the  fiscal note.  She pointed out                                                                   
that  the  bill   gave  complimentary  hunting   and  fishing                                                                   
licenses to  all active  Alaska National  Guard troops.   She                                                                   
noted that the  Governor had introduced a bill  (HB 451) that                                                                   
gave the benefit only to those  troops returning from combat.                                                                   
She noted that the new bill then  created a much greater cost                                                                   
to the  Fish and Game budget,  $65.7 thousand annual  loss as                                                                   
opposed to $5.5 thousand.  She  stated that the budget of her                                                                   
department was already in some jeopardy.                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
9:27:57 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Ms. Gilbertson proposed that the  bill provided incentive for                                                                   
Alaskans to join  the National Guard, whereas  the Governor's                                                                   
bill  merely  provided  an  expression  of  thanks  to  those                                                                   
returning from combat.   She pointed out that HB  387 did not                                                                   
provide an option  for the Commissioner of the  Department to                                                                   
decide on whether  to give the benefit.  She  also noted that                                                                   
there was  no timeline, costing  the Department  $65 thousand                                                                   
every year, as opposed to the  Governor's bill which was only                                                                   
in effect during times of active combat.                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
9:29:23 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Ms. Gilbertson requested financial  relief for her Department                                                                   
if  the bill  were passed,  since  she proposed  it would  in                                                                   
effect produce an unfunded mandate.                                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
9:29:57 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Representative Thomas explained  that the reason they offered                                                                   
the  benefit prior  to  combat was  that  many returned  from                                                                   
combat  with   physical  disabilities.    He   proposed  that                                                                   
financial concerns  should not deter this benefit,  and cited                                                                   
permits  from  commercial fisheries  as  providing  resources                                                                   
needed to support  it.  He expressed strong  personal support                                                                   
of the  program in  relieving National  Guard personnel.   He                                                                   
again  cited personal  combat experience,  and proposed  that                                                                   
the  bill  would  provide  a  healthy  outlet  for  returning                                                                   
personnel in dealing with stress.                                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
9:32:05 AM                                                                                                                    
Representative Joule commented  that many Alaskans join other                                                                   
branches of  the military,  and asked  if the bill  pertained                                                                   
only   to   Alaskan   residents   who   joined   the   Guard.                                                                   
Representative  Thomas  noted that  one  must  be an  Alaskan                                                                   
resident to receive the benefit,  but noted that anyone could                                                                   
join  the  Guard.   He  pointed  out  that  currently  anyone                                                                   
joining  the National  Guard  faced  a likelihood  of  combat                                                                   
duty.                                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
9:33:07 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair   Chenault   asked   whether   the   bill   actually                                                                   
represented    an   incentive    to    join   the    service.                                                                   
Representative   Thomas   concurred    that,   although   the                                                                   
educational benefit did provide  some incentive, this was not                                                                   
the bill's primary objective.  Co-Chair Chenault observed                                                                       
that the bill presented merely  a reward for those who served                                                                   
in  military.    Representative   Thomas  commented  that  it                                                                   
provided much needed peace for those in active service.                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
9:34:41 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair Meyer referred  to  the  supplemental  appropriation                                                                   
referred to  on Page 1, line  13, and expressed  concern that                                                                   
this might result  in a supplemental request every  year.  He                                                                   
also pointed  out the zero  fiscal note from  the University,                                                                   
and proposed that there might be a cost to that Department.                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
9:35:57 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Representative  Croft responded that  the bill represented  a                                                                   
closed, known  quantity of beneficiaries.  He  suggested that                                                                   
the Department of Fish and Game  might be underestimating the                                                                   
number  of  combat Guard  personnel  in  combat in  the  near                                                                   
future.   He proposed that  there was  an implied cap  to the                                                                   
benefit.  He stated  that by setting a cap it  might make the                                                                   
benefit become  unavailable if the number of  eligible combat                                                                   
personnel  exceeded  the estimate.    He concluded  that  the                                                                   
costs of the benefit would not become exorbitant.                                                                               
                                                                                                                                
9:38:07 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Representative Kelly inquired   how   many   National   Guard                                                                   
personnel  requested   the  bill  after  not   receiving  the                                                                   
educational benefit.                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
Representative Croft noted that  last year, 25 Guards members                                                                   
were  not  able to  obtain  the  benefit  since it  had  been                                                                   
depleted.  He  added that the spousal benefit  was an attempt                                                                   
to do more for Guard members,  a desire shared by a number of                                                                   
Alaskan legislators.   He  noted that  the situation  in Iraq                                                                   
brought  the issue  of family  sacrifice into  focus, not  in                                                                   
terms of individual requests but  rather the overall problem.                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
9:40:11 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Representative  Thomas noted  his experience  of receiving  a                                                                   
two week "early  out" from service in Vietnam,  but explained                                                                   
that with  no debriefing  it put him  at a disadvantage.   He                                                                   
noted the need  to inform Guard personnel of  the educational                                                                   
benefit available to them.                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
9:41:08 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Representative Holm expressed  concern with  the zero  fiscal                                                                   
note from  the Department of  Military and Veterans  Affairs.                                                                   
He  also  asked  about  potentially   missing  costs  in  the                                                                   
University fiscal note.                                                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
9:42:14 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Representative  Croft  emphasized that  there  would be  some                                                                   
cost to  the benefit.   He explained  that the intention  was                                                                   
for the  state to incur  cost to provide  a benefit  to Guard                                                                   
personnel.    He proposed  that  the  fiscal note  should  be                                                                   
indeterminate  for the Department  of Military and  Veterans'                                                                   
Affairs.   He  went on  to propose  that there  would not  be                                                                   
additional  cost for  the University.    He noted  historical                                                                   
research   into   both  the   University   and   governmental                                                                   
accounting  systems and  concluded that  the costs for  these                                                                   
types of  benefits were  absorbed in a  variety of  ways over                                                                   
time.                                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
9:43:56 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Representative Holm commented  that tuitions  do not  pay all                                                                   
education  costs  for the  University,  and  surmised that  a                                                                   
tuition  waiver   would  not   then  take  money   away  from                                                                   
operations.  He proposed, however,  that they would be adding                                                                   
burden to the  University, and that the fiscal  note for that                                                                   
department should also be indeterminate.                                                                                        
                                                                                                                                
9:44:53 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Representative  Croft asserted  that the  personnel would  be                                                                   
taking courses  that they would  have normally  taken anyway,                                                                   
and that  the bill merely changed  the source of  the tuition                                                                   
payment.   He proposed  that the  bill meant  that the  State                                                                   
would  be   paying  for  the   tuition,  and   therefore  the                                                                   
University was not incurring a loss.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
9:45:54 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
JOHN  CRAMER,  DIRECTOR,  ADMINISTRATION  SERVICES  DIVISION,                                                                   
MILITARY  AND VETERANS  AFFAIRS testified  in support  of the                                                                   
bill.    He  stated  that  there  was  an  increment  in  the                                                                   
operating  budget to  make up  for the  shortfall in  tuition                                                                   
waiver funding, and reiterated  that the benefit ran out last                                                                   
year.  He  explained that since the University  had increased                                                                   
tuitions,  they were  not able  to  meet the  demand for  the                                                                   
educational  benefit and  incurred  an operational  financial                                                                   
increase  for FY 07.   He  noted the  uptrend in  deployment,                                                                   
predicting  more than  800 personnel going  into combat  this                                                                   
year.                                                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                
9:47:46 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Mr. Cramer  explained  that the primary  reason for  National                                                                   
Guard personnel  seeking  to improve their  education  was to                                                                   
improve their  movement in rank  inside the military  system,                                                                   
which then affected their family's  livelihood.  He noted the                                                                   
active recruitment program, and  their desire to continue the                                                                   
benefit.  He  stated that a new, likely  indeterminate fiscal                                                                   
note was  forthcoming, and  estimated an  actual cost  of $83                                                                   
thousand.   He estimated that  roughly 25 percent  of spouses                                                                   
would likely utilize the education benefit.                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair Meyer stated  the  desire  to  HOLD the  bill  until                                                                   
future fiscal notes could be prepared.                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
9:49:40 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Representative Holm asked  why  the Department  withheld  the                                                                   
benefit,  rather than  simply granting  all eligible  tuition                                                                   
waivers and submitting a supplemental request.                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
Mr.  Cramer  explained  that  the  University  operated  year                                                                   
round,  and that they  did not  know exactly  how many  Guard                                                                   
members would apply  during a given year.  He  noted that the                                                                   
National  Guard   did  not  bring  the  shortfall   to  their                                                                   
attention until  recently, when an increment  of $25 thousand                                                                   
was added  to the operating budget  of FY 07.  He  noted that                                                                   
although  fewer people  applied  this year,  due  to the  ten                                                                   
percent increase in tuition, they experienced a shortfall.                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
9:51:16 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Representative Joule asked about  whether all Guard personnel                                                                   
were Alaskan.   Mr. Cramer confirmed that a  few Guardsmen in                                                                   
Alaska were  not Alaskan residents,  but emphasized  that the                                                                   
vast majority were living in Alaska.                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
HB 387 was HEARD and HELD for further consideration.                                                                            
HOUSE BILL NO. 307                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
     An Act creating the Knik River Public Use Area.                                                                            
                                                                                                                                
Representative  Bill Stoltze,  Sponsor  commented briefly  on                                                                   
the bill.   He noted that  his district experienced  problems                                                                   
with  land mismanagement  and  misuse.   He  pointed out  the                                                                   
public meetings held to discuss  this issue and noted changes                                                                   
made  in  the  bill to  reflect  concerns  expressed  by  the                                                                   
department and  constituents.  He expressed his  intention to                                                                   
develop  a  multiuse  management  plan,  maintaining  current                                                                   
values of use.                                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
9:55:38 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
CHARLOTTE  SARTOR,  MATSU, testified  via  teleconference  in                                                                   
support of the bill.  She thanked  Representative Stoltze for                                                                   
improvements  to the bill.   She  explained problems  of land                                                                   
misuse,  and  proposed  that  good  enforcement  was  key  to                                                                   
addressing problems.  She also  suggested changes to line 13,                                                                   
and discussed  the network  of trail  routes.  She  suggested                                                                   
adding a citizen's  advisory board, and pointed  out the need                                                                   
to safeguard wildlife.  She urged funding for the bill.                                                                         
                                                                                                                                
9:57:46 AM                                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
BRIT  LIVELY,  CO-FOUNDER, BUTTE  AREA  CIVIC  ORGANIZATIONS,                                                                   
testified  via teleconference  in support of  the bill.   She                                                                   
thanked  the Sponsor  for  providing  more troopers  for  the                                                                   
area.   She  applauded changes  made by  the House  Resources                                                                   
Committee, but suggested that  more changes were needed.  She                                                                   
stated that  dangerous activities  in the  area were  still a                                                                   
concern,  and  urged funding  for  adequate oversight.    She                                                                   
noted that  they had not seen  the fiscal note,  but proposed                                                                   
an estimate of  $250 thousand for the first year  to make the                                                                   
area  usable for  families.    She also  noted  the need  for                                                                   
public  restrooms,  as well  as  for enforcement  to  prevent                                                                   
vandalism.   She  also  suggested  that a  recreational  area                                                                   
designation  would  help  to   protect  the  area,  and  that                                                                   
visitors would therefore  pay a small fee for  upkeep for the                                                                   
area.  She urged support of this Alaskan resource.                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
10:02:16 AM                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair Meyer closed  public  testimony  for  the  day,  but                                                                   
expressed his intention to continue on the following day.                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
HB  307  was   HEARD  and  HELD  in  Committee   for  further                                                                   
consideration.                                                                                                                  
ADJOURNMENT                                                                                                                   
                                                                                                                                
The meeting was adjourned at 10:02 AM                                                                                           
                                                                                                                                

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