From Senator Jesse Kiehl <[email protected]>
Subject Welcome to the Real Deal With Kiehl!
Date January 20, 2024 5:17 AM
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Away We Go! Away We Go! January 19, 2024 Dear Friends and Neighbors, We're back! A mere three feet of snow followed by Taku winds couldn't stop the legislature from getting right to work this session. I'm sorry to report we couldn't override the governor's education funding veto—there's more on that below. Also, read on for executive order-palooza and an intro to our new team member! Speaking on the Senate floor with Sens. Wilson & Kaufman. BSA PSA Last night the Legislature met in joint session to vote on overriding the governor’s veto of $87 million in education funding. We fell short. Alaska has the highest threshold in the country to override a budget veto. It takes ¾ of the entire legislature. I'm pretty sore at the 33-29 showing. Alaska schools desperately need those dollars to educate the kids. But the work isn't over. Now we swing our focus to providing a significant funding boost next year. The governor's December budget cuts school funding below even this year's post-veto level. That will worsen the crisis in school districts around the state. That discourages families from staying here, moving here, working Alaska jobs, or starting Alaska businesses. Let me repeat one part of that: this is a statewide issue. You've likely heard about the crisis facing the Juneau School District. They’re staring down the barrel of a $9.5 million deficit in a $74 million budget. Some people who don't want to invest in schools are pointing to that as a reason not to. But school funding is a statewide issue. How JSD got here is complicated. I can identify some contributing factors (including cutting the business office to the bone and beyond in recent years as the district worked to spare classrooms) but there were also staggering errors for which I can make no excuse. The city and the district are working hard to fix things. That includes changes to ensure it never happens again. I also appreciate the state Department of Education and Early Development giving JSD five years to work out of its "negative fund balance." That won't prevent painful changes, but should stave off bankruptcy. While JSD starts staggering back toward its feet, there are 53 other school districts in our state. They, too, have cut business offices and administrators and activities and classrooms. They, too, have struggled with the rising cost of everything while state funding hasn't adjusted for inflation since 2017. They, too, are at the end of their fund balances while costs only rise. Good schools are an investment in our children. They're key to our economy, and as a colleague of mine argued on the Senate Floor this week, to our very democracy. Not one of the students Alaska schools teach each day mis-budgeted a dime of public money. We are long past due to invest in them. Speaker Tilton & President Stevens leading last night's joint session on veto overrides. Orders, Orders, Everywhere Over the next few weeks, Juneau eighth graders will come through the Capitol as part of their civics education. I love talking to them about the fundamentals of their government. Based on the tough questions they ask, we've got a bunch of good citizens coming up behind us. Don't feel left out! Courtesy of a dozen new Executive Orders by the governor dropped on our desks this week, you're about to get your very own personal class in the separation of powers and Article III, Sec. 23 of the Alaska Constitution. Don't say I never gave you anything. Separation of powers means the courts, the legislature, and the executive have their own share of the work of government. And unless the constitution says so, the other branches can’t stick their nose in. For example, the constitution says the legislature sets the rules for how we do our business. That means the courts don't get to be our parliamentarians. On the executive side, the power to appoint commissioners to run departments belongs to the governor. The constitution says the legislature can confirm or deny those appointments, but once a department head is on the job, only the governor gets to direct their work or fire them. You probably remember from your school days that the legislature writes the laws. Unless a governor vetoes a bill when something first gets written into statute, the executive doesn't have the power to rewrite it. But the Alaska constitution makes a limited exception. In Art. III, Sec. 23, it lets the governor "make changes in the organization of the executive branch... for efficient administration." And it says those changes can even tweak the statutes if necessary. Doing that takes an executive order. And in the spirit of checks and balances, it gives the legislature a specific way to disapprove them. This week the governor introduced a startling twelve executive orders. I've never heard of an Alaska governor doing so many all at once. Some of them are interesting and might be good ideas. For instance, he proposes splitting the Alaska Energy Authority and Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority boards of directors. I haven't dug into the details, but the idea of letting AIDEA focus on loans and AEA push energy initiatives seems intuitively pretty smart. Other proposals raise my eyebrows. He wants to fully eliminate a number of boards and councils. Not to put too fine a point on it, the Alaska Council on Emergency Medical Services has expertise, local knowledge, and community connections the Department of Health just doesn't. Deleting the citizen volunteers who help the department with policy recommendations sounds unwise. Still, whether those two things are good ideas or not, they seem to be within the governor's power to do by executive order. If we in the legislature don't like them, we have a way to disapprove them. Otherwise, they'll take effect. Other orders raise serious constitutional questions. Close to home, the governor proposes eliminating the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve Advisory Council. His order would put all its duties with the Department of Natural Resources. As a policy matter, the council members have more expertise on Haines and local issues than the Department of Natural Resources can bring to the issues facing the preserve. The department just barely managed, after a very long vacancy, to again hire a ranger in Haines. And while that person may be a genius, the Division of Parks & Outdoor Recreation above him is still struggling. More importantly, the 1982 law creating the preserve gave the council specific duties and powers it didn't give the department. (Not everywhere, though. Other powers went to the department and not the council.) So it's hard to see any way the Executive Order deleting the council is just about organization or efficiency. It changes substantive law in ways the constitution reserves for the legislature. I've asked Legislative Legal Services to take a serious look at whether the governor overstepped the separation of powers. A handful of the orders would do away with regulatory boards and have the Department of Commerce oversee those professions instead. There's no way the badly understaffed department can handle applications faster or cheaper than the public service-minded volunteers who serve on those boards. I know several legislators have asked the attorneys whether deleting the boards doesn't also change more than "organization." Then there’s the executive order on the ferry system advisory board. The governor doesn't propose eliminating it or changing the scope of expertise of the board members. He just wants to immediately end the terms of any members appointed by the Senate President and House Speaker to replace them with his own appointees. The lawyers are looking at this one, too. Who appoints advisory board members is hardly an efficiency question, after all. I'll reserve final judgement until I've heard from the legal experts, but where the governor has stepped over the separation of powers, his orders belong in the recycle bin. Some of them may be just fine. And in a couple of cases, I think the legislature should seriously consider disapproving bad (albeit constitutionally allowed) ideas. That's more detail than the middle schoolers get. But I figured you could handle it. One thing's for sure: we won't run short on civics lessons this session! Oh, and thanks the the League of Women Voters of Juneau for organizing and helping fund the eighth grade visits! My office is here to help! Call, email, or visit us. Left to right: Cathy, Aurora, John, and Ella. Welcome Aboard, John! We welcomed a new intern this week. John Goeckermann is a senior at the University of Alaska Southeast majoring in Environmental Studies with emphasis on outdoor and adventure studies. Originally from Wisconsin, John moved to Alaska in 2021 to attend UAS and experience the access to nature only available in a place like this. John enjoys outdoor activities like skiing and backpacking. He also likes meeting new people, which is excellent for an office like ours with a lot of active, involved constituents! I'm excited to have John in the office. He'll staff me on the Transportation Committee, and we're talking about which bills he'll help carry. I look forward to his work this session. All my best, Did someone forward you this newsletter and now you want your very own copy? Did you fall into it through the series of tubes but now you want it sent straight to you? SUBSCRIBE Events & Happenings Around District B Juneau Black Holes The Marie Drake Planetarium is hosting a presentation and discussion on black holes! Look at some of the most recent discussions and theories of Black Holes. Friday, January 19, 6:00 -7:00pm. Juneau Dance On Sunday, January 21st head to the Alaska Club downtown for free international folk dance lessons! 4:00-5:45pm, no partner necessary! Gustavus Kid’s Night It’s Kid’s Night at the Community Center this Wednesday, January 24! Open to kids K-5—consider dropping off a donation or shareable snack with your kid! Gustavus Game Night Music, games, what else can you ask for? Head on down to the Community Center on the 20th at 7pm to jam and play! Haines Stories Head to the Haines Library for story time Monday, January 22! All ages are welcome. Skagway Music Every Saturday from 3-5pm, swing by the Skagway Library and dabble on the (provided) instruments—including a mandolin, ukulele, guitar, banjo, and piano! Skagway Book Club Have you read (or do you want to read) The Eternal Wonder by Pearl S. Buck? Swing on by the library on the 21st at 3pm and discuss it with the book club! Haines RISK Enjoy strategy games? Want to learn a classic? Head to the library on the 19th from 3:15-4:15pm! Juneau Open Skate Embrace the winter spirit and ice skate at the Treadwell Arena! 7:45-8:45pm January 20, 1:00-2:30pm January 21, Sign-up is encouraged, but you can also drop in. Skate rentals are available. Is there an event in our district I should know about? Please call or email! Want to Send Snail Mail? Alaska State Capitol Room 514 Juneau, AK 99801 You Can Call: 800 550 4947 907 465 4947 Or Email Me! ‌ ‌ ‌ Contact My Staff, the people who power the work: Aurora Hauke 907 465 5051 [email protected] Ella Adkison 907 465 6419 [email protected] Cathy Schlingheyde 907 465 6827 [email protected] John Goeckermann 907 465 4947 [email protected] Senator Jesse Kiehl | Alaska State Capitol, Rm. 419, 4th Avenue & Main Street, Juneau, AK 99801 Unsubscribe [email protected] Constant Contact Data Notice Sent by [email protected]
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