Associated Press 

Budget woes not only issue concerning lawmakers

Daylight savings time targeted in three legislative bills this session


Valdez Star photo

Ending Daylight Savings Time and regulating cigarette smoking in public on a statewide level are two issues before the legislature that are receiving less attention due to Alaska's budget crisis and ongoing efforts to regulate legalized marijuana.

The budget continues to be a major focus for state lawmakers, who will be delving into Gov. Bill Walker's spending proposal for next year.

Walker released details of his 2016 budget on Thursday.

Even with the changes proposed by Walker, including the elimination of 329 state positions, many vacant or expected to be through retirements or attrition, the projected deficit is massive. Between this year and next, the state could be facing a deficit of about $6.9 billion - a situation exacerbated by a slide in oil prices - and it will be looking to savings to the help fill the gap.

Tough decisions lie ahead as lawmakers grapple with what the role, and right size, of government should be. The situation isn't expected to be resolved in a year.

Many see Alaska's next best hope for significant revenue as a major liquefied natural gas project. The Department of Natural Resources budget includes $13.2 million in unrestricted general funds to continue state efforts to advance the project, including hiring a project manager. That represents nearly 8 percent of the department's proposed operating budget, according to an overview given to the House Finance Committee Friday.

But the department, like others, is planning for overall cuts. DNR faces a potential cut of close to 50 positions, according to the overview.

Besides the budget, here are three things to watch for this week:

TURNING BACK DAYLIGHT SAVINGS: At least three bills are pending in the Legislature that would do away with daylight saving time. The Senate State Affairs Committee plans to hear one of those bills, SB 6, on Tuesday.

In her sponsor statement, Sen. Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River, says the bill is in response to concerns raised by constituents and various groups. The bill, as proposed, would take effect Jan. 1, 2017.

STATE OF JUDICIARY: The chief justice of the Alaska Supreme Court, Dana Fabe, is scheduled to deliver the traditional State of the Judiciary address to a joint session of the Legislature on Wednesday.

SMOKING LIMITS: SB 1, from Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, would prohibit smoking in certain public places, such as enclosed bus shelters; school, state or city parks primarily designated as playgrounds and within 10 feet of the entrance to a bar or restaurant that serves alcoholic drinks. It is scheduled for hearing by the Senate Health and Social Services Committee on Wednesday.

"Why is a conservative willing to take on this issue?'' Micciche says in his sponsor statement. "The reason is simply to protect the rights of the non-smoker, save lives and reduce the staggering health costs of secondhand exposure to tobacco use."

Valdez Star photo

Smoking outdoors will be regulated across Alaska if Sen. Peter Micciche bill, SB1 passes legislative muster.


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