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It's initiative season!
Labor law reforms and a couple election measures, for good measure, could be on their way to the 2024 ballot.
Good rainy afternoon, Alaska!
In this edition: Alaska has a new slate of ballot initiatives, with three more filed last week that deal with worker rights and election reforms. Let’s break them down. Meanwhile, it sure doesn’t seem like the backlash over the governor’s veto of education funding will die anytime soon. Also, the reading list.
Current mood: ☔
It’s initiative season!
Last week brought a new slate of ballot initiatives to get on the 2024 ballot. The measures include overhauling the state’s labor laws to raise the minimum wage and guarantee paid leave at most companies, a revised measure restricting campaign contributions after the first one raised legal issues, and banning state resources from being spent on partisan primaries.
That brings the total of voter initiatives working their way to next year’s election to five. Just one—the initiative to repeal ranked-choice voting—has been approved as legal by the state and is in the signature-gathering process. The others have late-summer deadlines for the state’s legal review to be completed and will have a tight turnaround if they hope to get the signatures together in time for the 2024 ballot.
Here’s a rundown of everything and where they stand:
Labor law reform. The legislation has three main prongs: Increases the minimum wage to $13 per hour in 2025 and $15 on July 1, 2027, with it tied to inflation after that; establishes minimum paid sick leave for all workers with the amount of time off depending on the size of the business (seven days for people at businesses with 15 or more employees and 40 hours at businesses with fewer than 15 employees); it also establishes the rights of employees against being coerced into speech, such as required meetings to share an employer’s opinion on religion or politics. Prime sponsors: Ed Flanagan, Carey Fristoe and Rep. Genevieve Mina. (Deadline Sept. 3)
Revised contribution limits. This is the sponsor’s second go at this initiative after they got word the first version was likely to be rejected by the state over a provision limiting how much a campaign could raise from out-of-state sources. The new measure removes those provisions entirely, leaving a clean bill that would enact campaign contribution limits with inflation-proofing. Prime sponsors: Bruce Botelho, David Monson and Rep. Calvin Schrage. (Deadline Sept. 3)
Preventing state resources from going to party primaries. Linked to the campaign contribution limits initiative, this would specifically bar the state from spending money helping political parties select their general election candidates. This wouldn’t impact the current system under ranked-choice voting because primaries are open and non-partisan, but it would have a big impact if ranked-choice voting and open primaries were repealed. In effect, it would require parties to run their primaries independent from the state election system, akin to how the presidential process is currently handled. Prime sponsors: Bruce Botelho, Lesil McGuire and Juli Lucky. (Deadline Sept. 3)
Term limits for state legislators. The measure would set a limit of 12 years of consecutive service with six-year breaks between such stints. It would put a hard cap of 20 years of elected service on legislators. Legislators currently in office who’ve hit those limits when and if the measure becomes law would be allowed to finish their terms. Prime sponsors: Heath Smith, Trevor Shaw and Elijah Verhagen (Deadline Aug. 22)
Getting rid of RCV. The far-right, church-backed effort to get rid of Alaska’s ranked-choice voting system is the only one of the bunch that’s advanced to the signature-gathering process. We’ve heard some regular updates about their progress, but the group is also facing accusations that it’s not been all that honest with the public about how it’s been raising and spending money. So, does it have three-quarters of the signatures needed, or is that just more bravado? Prime sponsors: Phillip Izon, Jamie Donley and Art Mathias.
The K-12 vetoes aren’t going away anytime soon
It’s been a rainy summer, but it doesn’t seem like the backlash against the governor’s latest round of vetoes—which included cutting the Legislature’s one-time increase for K-12 education in half—has dampened. Here are a couple of headlines and takeaways from the education realm in the last week that highlight the funding problem:
Several Democratic lawmakers have filed for reelection far earlier than usual. According to a report by KTOO, some are doing so with the fight over education vetoes in mind. Filing for office allows the candidates to start fundraising and messaging around the vetoes and a potential special session to override them. So far, the Dunleavy-allied House leadership has been reluctant to entertain the idea, but a summer of political pressure may change some minds.
A University of Alaska study on teacher recruitment and retention found that recruiting and retaining teachers in rural Alaska requires significantly higher pay than in urban communities. It argues that underlying challenges with living in rural Alaska can be made up with higher compensation, but that compensation level might need to be really high. We’re talking about $120,000 versus the roughly $55,000 to $60,000 annual salary for urban teachers. According to the study, that’s on the high end of things, with the needs being somewhere in the 25%-50% higher range. The study also notes that other changes, like improved working conditions, would go a long way to keeping teachers.
The governor has still not answered any meaningful questions about his veto of public education money. Instead, his office tweeted that “GOV. DUNLEAVY INCREASED FUNDING.” That’s about as tone-deaf as we’ve come to expect from an administration that’s living in its bubble.
Later this week, the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly is set to hold a special meeting to introduce a resolution that would put an additional $4 million into the school system. That’s less than half of what was eliminated with the vetoes, and even that seems to have mixed support.
In the big picture: While the battle over this year’s school funding is far from over, we shouldn’t be quick to forget that it’s only a one-time increase. Even restoring the funding now would leave much uncertainty over the next year and the year after. The best way to ensure education gets the support it needs is through increasing the base student allocation, which needs to pass as a bill of its own. It’s not entirely clear what Dunleavy might do with a BSA increase bill, but it would be a great deal more difficult for him to try to spin that (and, judging by their messaging, they’re not really up to the task of spinning a 50% cut).
It’s also important to remember that a permanent BSA increase is extraordinarily close to the finish line in the Legislature. In the final days of the session, it advanced out of the House Finance Committee and, if not for the last-minute maneuvering of the House leadership, would have likely reached a floor vote.
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