By Naomi Klouda
Homer parents and kids turned out to protest proposed budget cuts to early learning programs at the Legislative Information Office last week.
At issue is a $137,500 cut to Best Beginnings and $242,500 from Parents as Teachers for fiscal year 2014.
The “Picket Party,” as the rally was called, showed their support for early learning funding programs like Head Start, Parents as Teachers, Pre-K and Best Beginnings. The House Finance committee recently moved to cut the funding for early learning programs that serve statewide. Best Beginnings was awarded $937,500 and Parents as Teachers $1,042,500 in fiscal year 2013.
Parents and educators, testifying Wednesday before the House Finance Committee, are asking for funding levels to remain at least even with last year’s appropriation.
Jenny Martin, coordinator of Homer’s Best Beginnings program, said the funding pays for training, parenting classes and child care during Best Beginnings events. Last year, the local group won a grant of $900 to improve language and literacy services and a $500 grant for emergency child care services.
“Any of these projects stand to be lost if the cuts go in,” Martin said.
The Parents as Teachers Program is run locally by SPROUT, which serves parenting classes from Ninilchik to Nanwalek. Parents as teachers is a visitation program to build a strong foundation for children’s success in school and life.
“The most important lesson our children gathered from picketing is what some of our responsibilities are as part of a community,” said parent Red Asselin. “They got to watch their parents stand together and give voice to a cause. As we formed a train and choo chooed our way up and down the sidewalk, I can only hope that the children got an inkling of how fun and important it is to be part of something that is much bigger than just one person.”
Of course, the road to selflessness and civic duty was paved in this case with cookies and hot cocoa, she added.
Budget testimony has now ended on the House side, but will continue in the Senate.
Gov. Parnell introduced his proposed FY2014 budget on Dec. 14. The FY2014 operating budget is $5.75 billion, up from $5.7 billion in FY2013. The capital budget for FY2014 as proposed would be less than half of what it was in FY2013, at $795.2 million, down from FY2013’s capital budget of $1.93 billion. The combined total in spending is $10.86 billion.
Rep. Paul Seaton introduced House Bill131, a measure that would delegate to local municipalities the authority to deal with the derelict and abandoned vessels. Currently, only state and federal agencies are in charge.
Alaska’s current statute regulating abandoned and derelict vessels was written in 1975, when the state owned most of the public harbors. Today, 75 percent of those harbors have been transferred to municipal governments, but the state is still in charge of derelict and abandoned vessels, according to Michael Lukshin, the state ports engineers for the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities.
If the new bill is passed into law, local governments would have the power to deal with derelict or abandoned vessels that are on municipal waters, submerged lands or shores.
A harbormaster could use this authority to declare an unfit vessel that tries to enter his harbor a derelict and either impound the boat or send it back to state waters until its hazards have been cleaned up.
Municipalities could also clean up abandoned derelict vessels that they believe pose a danger in the future.
Boat owners could still take their vessels into state waters if their ship is deemed a derelict under the new authority delegated to municipalities. People anchoring on state waters are required to receive authorization if they stay longer than 14 days, but neither the Coast Guard nor the Department of Natural Resources has the ability to fine boat owners or execute an effective means of enforcement.
Seaton’s bill wouldn’t provide funding to help, but it would begin by handing some authority to the local areas where boats are abandoned or pose an environmental hazard.
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Ranking Member Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, sent a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission requesting information about rate proceedings the commission has initiated under section 5 of the Natural Gas Act since 2009.
The request was made to provide oversight of energy markets and regulatory agencies.
“Consumers deserve to know how much they’ve been overcharged, and whether current regulations and regulators are doing the job,” Wyden said.
The letter asks FERC to provide information about proceedings under section 5 of the Natural Gas Act, which concern “allegations that pipeline companies collected fees from pipeline customers for transportation, storage and fuel that were unjust and unreasonable.”
“I think it’s important to establish how the process FERC has in place to maintain just and reasonable rates is working,” Murkowski said. “This information will help establish our understanding of the facts.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski was honored for work in responsible ocean policy and science advocacy in receiving the Admiral James D. Watkins Congressional Leadership Award at the Consortium for Ocean Leadership’s 2013 policy forum. Murkowski’s fight for ocean policies included various pieces of legislation. She most recently joined her Senate colleagues in introducing bipartisan bills that would protect America’s oceans from threats both foreign and domestic.
The Watkins Award is conveyed by the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, a Washington-DC based nonprofit organization that represents more than 100 of the nation’s leading public and private ocean research and education institutions, aquaria and industry.
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