Legislature(2007 - 2008)SENATE FINANCE 532
04/10/2007 03:00 PM FINANCE
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* first hearing in first committee of referral
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3:05:40 PM 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 Finance Committee. 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. 3:07:46 PM 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. 3:11:43 PM 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." 3:16:07 PM 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. 3:18:49 PM 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. 3:20:42 PM 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. 3:23:45 PM 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." 3:28:01 PM 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. 3:32:09 PM Senator Elton requested a copy of the witness' written testimony. 3:32:37 PM 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. 3:35:33 PM 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". 3:36:50 PM 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. 3:39:12 PM 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. 3:41:46 PM 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 markets. 3:43:48 PM 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. 3:45:03 PM 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. 3:47:07 PM 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 or Cordova: 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. 4:45:36 PM 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. 4:49:46 PM 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 legal advice. 4:52:43 PM 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. 4:55:09 PM 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. 4:57:28 PM 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. 5:01:15 PM 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. 5:02:18 PM 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 substitute. 5:03:41 PM 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. 5:04:09 PM 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. 5:05:49 PM 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. 5:08:45 PM 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. 5:11:50 PM 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. 5:14:28 PM 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 sharing. 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. 5:18:29 PM 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 organization. 5:19:27 PM 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." 5:21:09 PM 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. 5:23:34 PM 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. 5:25:26 PM VICTOR MARTIN testified through an interpreter that he is deaf and that interpreters are important to himself and to the community. 5:26:09 PM 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. 5:28:44 PM 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. 5:31:09 PM 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. 5:33:55 PM 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. 5:38:35 PM Co-Chair Hoffman reiterated his request that testimony be limited to two minutes. 5:38:51 PM 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. 5:40:55 PM 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. 5:42:59 PM 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. 5:45:05 PM 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. 5:51:21 PM 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. 5:56:32 PM 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. 5:58:16 PM 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. 5:59:23 PM 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. 6:00:28 PM 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. 6:01:24 PM 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. 6:02:19 PM 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. 6:03:52 PM 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. 6:05:24 PM 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. 6:09:05 PM 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. 6:11:16 PM DANIEL DARNELL testified in support of keeping the Fairbanks job training office open. 6:12:15 PM EUGENE EWIN testified through an interpreter that interpreters are necessary to assist deaf Alaska Natives in jail. 6:15:06 PM MAGGIE MATOS testified through an interpreter to the importance of interpreters for the deaf. More funding is needed for interpreters in Alaska. 6:15:54 PM EMMA MORGAN testified through an interpreter to her need for more interpreters for the deaf. They are needed for doctor visits and other interactions. 6:16:46 PM 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. 6:18:59 PM 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 process. 6:21:22 PM 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. 6:23:31 PM 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 surrounding communities. 6:25:49 PM 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. 6:27:44 PM 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. 6:29:14 PM ANNA FERRI, Arctic Outfitters, testified in support of "Destination Alaska" tourism funding. This industry drew her and many others back to the State. 6:30:20 PM 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. 6:31:15 PM 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. 6:31:54 PM 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. 6:34:32 PM 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. 6:37:19 PM 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 reinstated. 6:39:00 PM 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. 6:42:23 PM 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. 6:44:52 PM 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. 6:46:48 PM 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. 6:49:52 PM Co-Chair Hoffman reviewed the week's public testimony schedule.