In a shuffle of re-assigned positions, Sen. Gary Stevens will now take up the chairmanship of the Senate Education Committee. Recently, Republican Sen. Mike Dunleavy of Wasilla left the Senate Majority in protest of the direction the budget was going in and, as a result, lost seats on two committees.
Dunleavy had fought for more cuts instead of decr
easing the Permanent Fund Dividend and left the caucus as a statement. The Senate Committee on Committees therefore removed him from both the Senate State Affairs Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.
Stevens replaces Republican Sen. Shelley Hughes of Palmer, who left that role to serve as chair of the Senate Finance Committee in Dunleavy’s place
Stevens is prepared for his new role on the education committee. He explains that, not only has he been the Education Committee chair before, but he’s responsible for the bill that established a standing Education Committee in the House and Senate.
“It makes sense for me to chair [the Education Committee]. That’s where my interests have been always in the last 17 years and I just think it’s such a crucial matter that we have to deal with it properly.”
According to Stevens, Dunleavy’s strong reaction to the possible dividend cut is not representative of other legislators’ approaches.
“I think there’s probably an acceptance by the majority in both the House and the Senate that that’s the only reasonable way to balance this budget. It’s the biggest portion of it. It gets us close. It doesn’t get us to a final answer. The governor wants of course to have a truly balanced budget. He knows that use of the permanent fund earnings is the biggest piece of it.”
As far as the budget goes, Stevens says he’d hate to see a cut to K-12 and hopes they can stick to the governor’s budget.
“It’s gonna be a difficult thing because we have some folks in the Senate that insist on some cuts. The other issues in the budget, certainly the use of the earnings reserve of the permanent fund. We should reduce your permanent fund dividend to $1000 on the Senate side and maybe $1200 on the House side. I think that’s the only reasonable way to balance this budget.”
Stevens says, just as he’s told his constituents, he’d back the use of the earnings reserve.
As for whether the legislature will implement an income tax, a sales tax, or pursue reductions in payments to oil companies, Stevens says that’s all up in the air. He says the House and Senate are pretty separated on those issues.
He says they’re near the end of the 90-day session, but are likely to continue on through 120 days with a possibility of going longer.