Dunleavy says affordability the focus of this year’s session

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(The Center Square) – Alaska is an expensive place to live and affordability is a major focus of this year’s legislative session, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said Monday.

Lawmakers will consider a package of bills proposed by the governor when they begin the 2024 legislative session on Tuesday.

“Food and energy security, child care, housing, access to land, and health care are the key areas we need to work on to make Alaska an even better place to live,” said the second-term Republican. “But as we work to solve these issues, we must ensure that we are not focused only on the short term, but that our work sets up Alaska to be prosperous over the next 50 years.”

Dunleavy proposes an “Alaska Energy Independence Fund” as a “green bank” for energy projects such as power generation and storage. The Alaska Housing Finance Corp. would create the new nonprofit that would be funded by private investments and federal grants provided through the Inflation Reduction Act.

The governor’s budget revealed last month does not include an increase to the base student allocation for schools, but Dunleavy hopes lawmakers will consider a teacher bonus program. The bonuses range from $5,000 to $15,000 and would be paid directly to classroom teachers.

The Alaska House Coalition said education is one of the state’s top priorities.

“The success of our students hinges on the resources and tools we provide, and Alaska’s education system is now at risk of failure without the necessary funding for our educators and students,” said Rep. Maxine Dibert, D-Fairbanks. “As class sizes continue to increase, we’ve seen resources for extracurricular sports and elective course choices decrease. It is time to acknowledge the urgency of this situation and invest in the backbone of our schools – our dedicated educators – to secure a prosperous future for all of Alaska’s students.”

Dunleavy’s budget also includes funding for 17 new public safety officers. Four of those would focus on cases involving missing and murdered Indigenous persons, he said.

The governor’s proposed budget draws $987 million from reserves. Declining oil prices and production are causing the shortfall, he said. Alaska’s budget relies on oil and gas.

The $10.5 billion operating budget limits state agency growth to 1%, the governor said when unveiling his spending plan in December.

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