Filling the role of state senator and stand-up comedian, Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, addressed the Juneau Chamber of Commerce at its Thursday luncheon with a legislative update during a recess he personally voted against.
“I don’t know why I’m here because nothing’s really going on,” Egan joked. “I’m in recess casual today — no tie, jeans.”
He believes there are only a couple days’ more work to be done on deciding the Fiscal Year 2016 budget and commended the City and Borough of Juneau, Sealaska and the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council for offering space to accommodate legislators as Capitol renovations begin again. He also praised Gov. Bill Walker for denying legislators’ request to finish state business in Anchorage.
Starting Tuesday, the Legislature will reconvene to pass a budget, and though the rest will be worked out up North, Egan also spoke in favor of the governor’s decision to address Medicaid expansion and Erin’s Law in special session.
Egan listed off for Chamber members infrastructure projects that would be funded in the region:
• $3.1 million for Salmon Creek water filtration system.
• $1 million for work on Egan Drive and Riverside Drive.
• $4 million for Glacier Highway rehabilitation work.
• $3 million for Industrial Boulevard widening and a sidewalk continuing to the University.
• $1.7 million for modifying the stern berth at the Frank Palmer Auke Bay Ferry Terminal. (Note: The late Frank Palmer could apparently back up any truck or van on the ferry, and was acknowledged for his talent by friends and competitors alike.)
• $2.5 million for restoration of the ferry dock in Gustavus.
• $20 million for ferry maintenance and overhauls, including repowering the Matanuska. (Fun fact: Sen. Egan’s mother Neva christened the Matanuska in 1963, as well as the Malaspina in 1961, and his father, late Gov. Bill Egan, created the ferry system in 1959 upon statehood.)
• $25 million in Federally-authorized funding for the Juneau Access Road, which Egan supports but is on hold along with other “megaprojects” in the state.
Egan supports both the Juneau Access road, which he said is more about access to the capital for other Alaskans than a way out of town for Juneau residents, and the Alaska Marine Highway System. He said many don’t understand that AMHS is a highway and noted that with the exception of the Dalton Highway, it is the only highway in the state that generates revenue.
Egan is hopeful that the Legislature will agree on the budget he called “take two,” which adds back $7 million in funding to AMHS, assuring ferries run on the same schedule through the end of 2015.
There are already nearly 10,000 passenger reservations for the summer and more than 3,000 vehicle reservations paid for. Egan doesn’t think it’s fair to “just call ‘em and tell them they can’t,” as Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-Fairbanks, suggested.
Egan also favors “take two” because it keeps cruise ship head tax funds headed to coastal communities.
“That’s a lot of money to our economy,” Egan said of the funds, adding that under federal law that money must go to the communities and cannot be used to fill a budget gap.
The senator also expressed his opinion about reneging on a deal, decrying the attempts to do away with contractually obligated pay increases for public employees.
Egan also spoke out against proposed cuts to public education, finding fault even with “take two.”
“I want to see at least what we agreed to in legislation last year under HB278,” Egan said.
He also spoke out in favor of restoring Pre-K and Best Beginnings funding.
“We should restore funding for Alaska’s most precious resource — for me that’s our children,” he said. “Look at all us old people here, we’re not the future. The kids are the future of our state.”
Egan was well received at the Chamber luncheon but hopes to be too busy working to attend next week.