Being a first time legislator, I came to Juneau to make a difference. Shortly after arriving, a group of legislators (majority and minority members) met and talked about a long-range policy/fiscal plan for the state.
To accomplish our goals we need a plan to follow. We worked diligently together, analyzing how we could come up with a plan to address the issues of Alaska. On March 28, we had our first organizational meeting, establishing the chairman (Rep. Bill Hudson) and co-chairs (Rep. John Davis and Sen. Allan Austerman).
Every legislator was invited to participate. The governor's office is interested in a long-range plan as well. It is on the minds of everyone in the political arena and the private sector. One of the primary goals of this group is to open dialogue with the citizens of Alaska and have meetings with public participation.
At the meeting held on March 30, there were presentations by the Alaska Municipal League, the Department of Revenue and the governor's Office of Management and Budget. All of these groups have an interest in this process and bring ideas to the table for discussion.
Last week, former Gov. Jay Hammond addressed the group. We are discussing and breaking into subcommittees to address issues; i.e. government efficiencies, effectiveness, consolidation, privatization, taxes, forward funding, etc. Once the subcommittees are organized, it is the plan of this group to meet regularly and come back to our home districts to discuss this with the public for them to bring ideas to the legislators.
Because the issue is important to many legislators, it is our goal to have something ready to introduce next session. I ask my constituents to share thoughts and ideas with me. Public meetings will be held in the interim, and I am hopeful everyone will share their viewpoints through this process.
Working through the legislative process has been a learning experience. The House works on the budget and passes its version, then the Senate takes the budget and passes its own version. Once the House and Senate have their versions of the budget, it goes to a Conference Committee for finalization.
During a Finance Committee meeting a few weeks ago, myself and two other Legislators voted for an amendment to increase funding for pupil transportation, not knowing that a co-chairman had already talked to Senate Finance and discussed this particular issue. The dollar amount already allocated was $49 million!
Being new, I learned of a strategy I was not aware of. When the final numbers came through the Senate, the dollars for the increase in pupil transportation were included. We accomplished the goal, going through that process and strategy. I have to say this isn't a "cut" and "dried" process.
After experiencing this, I continue to feel even "stronger" that the state needs a long-range policy plan for doing the public's business. The public can then hold us accountable for not accomplishing the goals of the policy.
Ken Lancaster is a first-term Republican legislator from District 8, representing the Soldotna-Seward area.
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