House Bush Caucus releases key agenda
The Alaska House of Representatives Bush Caucus released its summary of guiding principles last week, summarizing the priorities for the bi-partisan group of rural legislators.
"We come together as representatives to work on issues that are important to our communities and constituents in rural Alaska," said Rep. Ben Nageak, D-Barrow in a recent newsletter. "We highlight revenue and budget, energy, gas pipeline, health and safety, resource and economic development and education issues as our main guiding areas."
Among their fiscal goals is the support of a state budget that does not cause the current spending restraint to fall disproportionately on rural Alaska, and investment in opportunities to diversify economies across the state.
The caucus also urges the state to consider the needs of rural and coastal Alaska in its decisions regarding the state's oil and gas tax system, acknowledging that Alaska's resource wealth lies largely in the Bush.
The group continues to put its support behind programs that help cut energy costs, including the Homer Weatherization and Rebate Programs, the Renewable Energy Grant Fund, and regional approaches to affordable energy solutions.
Hand in hand with those energy solutions is a gas pipeline project, they said, one that creates access to a wide expanse of rural areas.
"Much of House Finance's attention (last) week has been focused on HB 4, a bill laying out the powers and duties of the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation," wrote Rep. Bryce Edgmon in a recent release. Edgmon is also a Bush Caucus member. "Which is focused on the groundwork for an in-state gas pipeline project from the North Slope to Alaskan markets along the Railbelt. It is an ambitious and complex piece of legislation."
That legislation passed the House late Monday.
In other development realms, the group prioritized expansion of existing transportation and communication links between Alaska communities, and resource development that heeds meaningful local input from communities. They also support a federal revenue sharing program that would allow Alaska to share in revenue garnered from operations in federal waters off of the state's coast.
General goals to support health, education and good economies also top the list, including safeguards to protect Medicaid coverage in Alaska.
They do not support any legislation that allows religious or other private institutions to collect state education funding.
The caucus also supports a continued opposition toward photo identification requirements for Alaskan voters.
In the release from Rep. Edgmon's office, the Dillingham Democrat noted the tight timeline approaching to finish legislative business.
"Given the restraint on spending this year, you might think that there is not as much work as usual to do on the Capital Budget," Rep. Edgmon wrote. "But the fact is, tighter budgets are harder and more time consuming to write. Every decision is difficult. Which leaves me to wonder what our odds are for completing our work by April 14th. We have just more than two weeks left in the 90-day session. Following this Easter weekend we will certainly be at it 24/7. I think it's possible we'll finish on time, but if I were pressed, I'd have to speculate that's not likely."