By Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN
The Alaska House and Senate have reached a deal on the state’s operating budget. For weeks, the two bodies have been at an impasse over whether to fund cost-of-living raises for public employees. House Democrats argued that the state should not go back on its contract with state workers, while Senate Republicans held that it was inappropriate to grant them a pay increase when the state faces a multi-billion-dollar deficit. The House Republican majority acted as a go between.
The stalemate finally ended on Wednesday night, when a conference committee between the two bodies agreed to pay for the contracts this year, but placed limits on future increases. Their bill instructs the governor to keep salaries flat when bargaining with the public employee unions, and has a clause that allows contract negotiations to be reopened if oil goes above $95 per barrel or drops below $45 per barrel.
The committee directed Gov. Bill Walker to cut $30 million in agency operations at his own discretion as a way of offsetting the cost-of-living increases.
The compromise also adds $16 million in formula funding for schools, as well as $3 million for early education, $2 million for the ferry system,$3 million for senior benefits and $2.5 million for the Office of Children’s Services.
As the result of the deal, Democrats in the House Minority have agreed to support a withdrawal from the state’s rainy-day fund to pay for the $5 billion operating budget. A three-quarter vote is needed to access the Constitutional Budget Reserve.
The House and Senate have floor sessions scheduled for this morning [June 11], and a spokesperson for the House Majority said a vote on the budget is anticipated.
U.S. Senate Committee hears grim statistics on violence against Alaska Natives, American Indians
By Liz Ruskin, APRN
In Washington, D.C. yesterday (WEDS) the Senate Indian Affairs Committee heard pleas for better treatment of crime victims in Native communities. Gerad Godfrey, Chairman of Alaska’s Violent Crime Compensation Board, cited a few of the state’s grim statistics.
“In Bethel .. (and). the surrounding villages there’s on average one rape or child sexual abuse case reported every other day,” said Godfrey.
Godfrey said a victim in a village might be flown to a hospital, sometimes as far as Anchorage, for evidence collection, with no advocate. Worse, Godfrey said, often there’s no investigation and family members tell young victims to keep quiet.
“If they don’t feel that what happened to them is serious, and it was very bad, and somebody cares” said Godfrey, “our opportunity to restore them emotionally, spiritually, and mentally, probably passes. But beyond that, they are also more likely to perpetuate that as they grow older.”
His testimony, and the stories told from other states, stunned Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat.
“Who could sit in this room and not be horrified? One of almost every 3 children between the ages of 11 and 13 tested positive for a sexually transmitted disease, on Fort Peck? In what world aren’t we horrified?” said Heitkamp. “Your testimony, Mr. Godfrey -- I’m horrified. I’m horrified by all of this.”
Godfrey said the single biggest help would be money for sexual assault response teams that could mobilize to a village when a report comes in. He also advocates for abuse-prevention education in schools, an idea the Alaska Legislature is wrestling with.
Murkowski said leaving the decision to each school district isn’t a solution.
“In some of our small communities, where our school boards are making these decisions, it may be that some of our school board members are part of our problem,” said Murkowski. “And they don’t want to see these things – prevention education – included in the schools.
Murkowski said hearings like this one occur every few years in the committee, but she said senators can’t allow themselves to be numb to the statistics.