Kodiak’s state legislators are concerned about Alaska’s shrinking budget and shared their priorities at ComFish last week. There wasn’t much talk about fish at the state legislative update on Friday, but Rep. Stutes did provide one big update for fisheries; the commissioner of Fish and Game is creating a new board to tackle bycatch.
“People were frustrated, didn’t know who to call, what to do when they thought there were bycatch issues and now there’s going to be an actual board that falls under the state boards and commissions,” she said.
Stutes also reiterated struggles with finding crew for Alaska Marine Highway System ferries, including the Kennicott. The current plan for the Kennicott is to launch as soon as they’re able to find and train staff – it will remain tied up at the dock in the meantime.
Funding for the Marine Highway System has been a challenge overall, and Stutes says it’s difficult to work with an inconsistent and shrinking budget.
“When this budget was created that we’re on now, it was created on $102-barrel (of) oil,” the representative said. “And as you know, we’re down to 73 bucks a barrel, so we already started out in the hole.”
Senate President Gary Stevens was unable to be at ComFish in person, however was able to attend virtually. He says the only way for the state to have any kind of budget is to take from the Permanent Fund Dividend’s earnings.
“We have to use the earnings of the permanent fund, both for funding our government and avoid charging you taxes to do that and we have to use that to provide the permanent fund dividend,” he said. “So we’ll try to keep that given to the size we can. It was very high this year, I don’t think it will be that high this coming year.”
Dunleavy’s current budget suggests using about half of this year’s earnings to run the government. But Stevens says the legislature could use up to 75% of PFD’s earnings to run the government’s programs.