Briefs: Hughes drops caucus, no school layoffs, drag queen story hour

photo of Alaska Gov. Bill Walker
Gov. Bill Walker

GOVERNOR ADDS ITEMS TO SPECIAL SESSION: No sooner had the operating budget passed on Thursday than Gov. Bill Walker added a third item to the special session, now in its eighth day. Walker ordered the Legislature to take up House Bill 111, dealing with oil and gas tax credits. Earlier he had added legislation to address the opioid drug epidemic.

Senator Shelley Hughes of Palmer, Alaska
Sen. Shelley Hughes of Palmer

CAUCUS DOWN TWO: Sen. Shelley Hughes, a Republican from Palmer, voted against the compromise budget bill on Thursday, thereby leaving the Republican-led majority caucus, which now has just 13 members.

Sen. Mike Dunleavy, a Valley Republican, had left the caucus earlier this year over a disagreement over spending cuts.

The Republican Caucus is a group of legislators who agree to vote the same way on the budget.  Members of the caucus get committee chairmanships.

Hughes’ move leaves just one member from the heavily populated Mat-Su Valley in the Senate majority — Sen. David Wilson, a freshman from Wasilla.

Hughes says she was the lone “no” vote against the budget because she disagrees with cutting the Permanent Fund dividend at this time. She said a sales tax would bring in revenue from outside the state, whereas cutting the dividend only hurts Alaskans. In addition, the budget is still too big, she said. She represents a district in the state where many have voiced support for leaving the dividend intact.

Sen. Dunleavy was an excused absence as was Sens. Bill Wielechowski and Berta Gardner.

NO SCHOOL LAYOFFS IN ANCHORAGE: Anchorage School Superintendent Deena Bishop sent this note to employees yesterday: “It is with a grateful heart that I am sharing positive news with you today. The Conference Committee for the State Legislature has just put forth its education budget which includes full Base Student Allocation (BSA) funding. While there may be reductions in other revenue sources such as Transportation and Bond Debt, the outcome for these funds were not as significant as the BSA that supports district operations. To this end, we are gearing up to recall all remaining non-tenured teachers who experienced the Reduction in Force (RIF) protocol. Human Resources is preparing for the process to engage early next week so that our employees will not experience a break in insurance coverage. The goal in this process is to have all non-tenured, laid off employees return to their former sites. The next steps at the state level is for the full House and Senate to approve the budget. In addition, our Governor has to sign off on the bill as well before the layoffs are recalled. Nevertheless, the Board and Administration wanted to reach our full team to provide this update. I hope this email finds you well. More soon. Cheers, Deena Bishop”

More than 200 ASD employees had received notices that they could have been laid off due to budget reductions.

Gigi Monroe produces drag queen shows in Juneau, as seen in the poster above. He was part of a local “read aloud” event for children at the Douglas, Alaska library, during L.G.B.T. Pride Week.

JUNEAU LIBRARY HOSTS GENDER-BENDING STORY HOUR: The Douglas Public Library hosted a large crowd of people of all ages on June 14 for its first Drag Queen Story Hour, featuring drag queen artist Gigi Monroe of Juneau, who read books to children. The event came in the middle of L.G.B.T. Pride Week and was paid for by Friends of the Juneau Public Libraries. It was one of the monthly Family Night series.

KTOO reports the event was well attended and no formal complaints were lodged.

Earlier this  month, the City and Borough Assembly took up proposed cuts for the library system that would impact youth and family night programs, but in the end, the library system was left untouched.

The drag queen reading program was modeled after one in Brooklyn, NY.

The M/V Taku is back up for sale again, having had no bidders at its recent low-low price of $700,000.

FERRY TAKU PUT UP FOR BID AGAIN: The first two bidding periods brought no takers. So State DOT is advertising the M/V Taku, “as is, where is,” and isn’t disclosing what the minimum bid must be, so it may be an “or best offer” approach.

According to documents posted on the State’s public notice page:

“The Department has established a reserve price for this sealed bid sale. This value is not being disclosed to interested parties during this advertisement. The value will be announced at the sealed bid opening. The Department will sell the M/V Taku to highest bidder at or above the reserve price. The Department reserves the right through this notice to negotiate with the highest bidder if, the Department does not receive any bids at or above the reserve price.”

Earlier minimums were $1.5 million, then $700,000, but there were no takers. The ferry has been tied up in Ketchikan for two years, as it costs too much to maintain and run.

The 352-foot Taku plied the waters of Southeast Alaska from 1963 until 2015. The bidding deadline is July 7.