Editor's Note: The Kenai Peninsula's legislative delegation has been invited to keep residents informed of what's happening in Juneau in this column, which runs weekly during the legislative session. Kenai Peninsula lawmakers take turns writing the column.
At the beginning of this legislative session the folks in our district gave me a clear agenda regarding the budget, size of government, education, public transportation, economic growth and protection of the Alaska Permanent Fund.
It is still my conviction that government spending needs to be capped and the state must live within its means. We need to encourage responsible economic development rather than new taxes, fund education at the highest and most equitable levels by prioritizing and protect the permanent fund.
Often when someone uses the term "education," eyes glaze over and attention spans diminish. Maybe it is because we can all remember times when a class that we were in seemed to go into slow motion while our minds were speeding along somewhere else. But if you stop to think about it, education is really of core importance. It is one way not only of assuring that our children are prepared for adulthood in a changing and more complicated world, but that they accomplish this daunting mission with the support of our community. These are just a few of the reasons I will always do all I can to help support education.
So far the Senate has increased K-12 education funding by adding nearly $11 million to learning opportunity grants. Using last fall's enrollment numbers for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, this will be a funding increase to our district of over $800,000.
I have also co-sponsored Senate Bill 1 that is an education foundation formula increase. This legislation will assist our local school districts to meet, and hopefully exceed, the public's expectations and demands. I am working to help make sure the essential funding for education for our children is met. I am optimistic that additional funding will be secured before the adjournment of this legislative session.
Other operating budget highlights:
The University of Alaska saw an $8-million increase over last year's budget.
The Department of Public Safety received a $1.7 million increase over last year's budget, and there was no loss of "blue" or "brown" shirt troopers this year.
Medicaid saw a $250-million increase this year and should be fully funded.
Tobacco control, cessation and enforcement received the largest funding amount ever this year.
All state parks were kept open and funded, plus a $250,000 increase was approved to take care of backlogged maintenance on parks in Kenai, Valdez and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley.
Funding for food safety inspections was fully restored.
This budget holds the line on spending while addressing the needs of Alaskans by prioritizing spending.
As this legislative session comes to a close I would like to thank the many folks from the Kenai Peninsula and around the state that took the time to call, e-mail, fax, write letters and send public opinion messages. Sharing your opinions and concerns about the issues that were important to you helped to keep me focused and on the right track. If I can be of assistance to you or your family you can reach me by e-mail at Senator_Jerry_Ward@legis.state.ak.us. or by calling my Kenai office at 283-7996.
Sen. Jerry Ward is a Republican who represents the Kenai, Nikiski, south Anchorage area.
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