Sen. Bert Stedman spent six years as co-chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee. There, the Sitka Republican effectively blocked Governor Sean Parnell’s oil-and gas-tax rewrite plan.
When Republicans favorable to those changes organized this session’s Senate, they left him off the panel.
Stedman worries the Legislature will pass a bill that gives away too much and ignores the complexities of taxation and incentives.
“So if you just lower the oil tax and you don’t fix these other areas, the state of Alaska’s going to get the royal shaft and somebody’s going to end up with a gold mine,” Stedman says.
“And it won’t be the people who own the assets, which is the people in the state.”
The new Senate leadership put him in charge of the Health and Social Services Committee.
He freely admits that’s not one of his areas of expertise.
“I haven’t worked with that committee in the past. So I don’t have a lot of the historical issues that they work with front and center,” he says.
Stedman says he’ll meet with the state’s Health and Social Services commission and various interest groups.
He’s concerned about cuts or formula changes affecting federally-funded programs.
“There’s the health-exchange issue that the governor’s basically decided what he wants to do on. And that’s his role. And there’s a litany of other issues, so we’ll just have to wait and see and let then unfold,” he says.
His Health and Social Services Committee will likely see any legislation furthering the governor’s Choose Respect campaign against domestic violence.
“I don’t know if it’s the right approach, but it’s certainly a good approach. And it gets it out in the public eye a lot more. So I think it’s definitely beneficial to the interests of all the communities. And I do think he’s on the right track by increasing the state troopers and village public safety officers,” he says.
Stedman used to write the Senate’s capital budget. That gave him the power to select public-works projects for his district and other parts of the region.
This year, it’ll be different.
“We’ll be going through the communities’ lists throughout the region and trying to fill some of the gaps. But there is a difference between when you’re a committee member or a non-committee member and when you’re in charge of actually writing the budget,” he says.
He says previous sessions’ projects will be spread out over two or three years. That means some lag time before construction and other work slows down.
The governor’s proposed capital budget, released in December, allocates close to $200 million for Southeast projects. They range from road repairs to ferry engines to school improvements.
Stedman says he’ll continue to push for regional energy projects. But he worries too much money will go toward gaslines to Fairbanks and an export terminal further south.
“So I think we need to be able to be careful on what decisions we’re making that they’re not just political knee-jerk decisions for consumption in your own district. But we have to look at the long-term best interests of the state over several decades,” he says.
A big issue for Stedman – and all Southeast lawmakers – is reduced regional power.
Redistricting shrunk the delegation from eight to six. And the last elections took out three incumbents and left only one representative, Juneau’s Cathy Munoz, on a finance committee.
Stedman also worries about the loss of other coastal lawmakers from the top leadership positions.
“We have one member out of Kodiak out of 10 and when you run a democracy one vote in 10 doesn’t get very far. So we’ve got some work to do along coastal Alaska,” he says.
That one is Alan Austerman, the new co-chairman of the House Finance Committee. He’ll be the lawmaker assembling the operating budget.
Stedman’s Senate district has changed since last year, losing Petersburg and adding Haines, Craig, Hoonah, Angoon, and other small communities. He continues to represent Sitka and Ketchikan.
- So far, the Juneau School District has enrolled about 230 more students than it expected. If the higher enrollment remains true in October, the district could get enough additional state funding to cover a near $200,000 deficit.
- Juneau-based nonprofit, Southeast Alaska Land Trust, was denied its property tax exemption earlier this year. Now the Assembly will take another look.
- "A lot of ice experts, including myself, thought we were headed for a record year minimum," said Hajo Eicken, a professor at the International Arctic Research Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.