House District 36 has a new representative for the 29th Alaska Legislative Session. The session starts next Tuesday, but Dan Ortiz ferried up to Juneau from Ketchikan a week early for new-legislator orientation. He came by KRBD before he left on Friday, to talk about his goals for the session.
Before leaving for Juneau, Dan Ortiz made a point of visiting various communities within House District 36 and talking with officials about their concerns.
Many of those concerns followed a theme: How will the state’s budget woes affect local communities?
Alaska’s oil revenue has dropped sharply, along with worldwide oil prices. The state already had projected a budget deficit before that decline, and now the deficit has grown to more than $3 billion.
Ortiz said that everything will be on the table for potential spending cuts, including state education funding. However, the former high school teacher said that the Legislature needs to carefully consider potential repercussions, “and recognize that cuts can actually lead to longer term expenses in some situations.
“So, I’m just going to make the Legislature aware from my perspective what these potential cuts might mean, in terms of reality in the classroom,” he said.
While funds this year are tight, some projects still will move forward. One project Ortiz plans to keep an eye on as a member of the House Transportation Committee is the Shelter Cove Road project on Revilla Island, “which, if it ever happens, and I believe it’s going to, will open up lands for opportunities to do some logging with state Mental Health lands, as well as university lands.
“In order for that to happen, that Shelter Cove road tie-in project needs to happen. To finally see that come to fruition is a positive thing for the local economy, particularly for the timber industry, so that’s going to be one of my focuses, for sure,” he said.
The Shelter Cove Road project would result in about 10 miles of new, single-lane, unpaved road and bridges; plus an upgrade to existing logging roads. The new road would connect the main road system in Ketchikan to Shelter Cove in Carroll Inlet.
Before she retired from elected office, former House District 36 Rep. Peggy Wilson had been pushing for a transportation fund. Her vision was a dedicated fund similar to the Alaska Permanent Fund, where the profits from an initial investment could be used for transportation projects.
Ortiz said that, while the idea has merit, it’s unlikely to happen anytime soon.
“It’s going to be difficult in this particular upcoming legislative session to move forward in any positive was in that particular direction, because that would mean dedication of resources: new dedication of resources,” he said.
In addition to the transportation committee, Ortiz has been assigned to fisheries, tourism and economic development, and community and regional affairs.
“I’m excited about those opportunities,” he said. “Those particular committees all have direct ties to local, District 36 interests.”
Ortiz named some sub finance committees that he’d like to sit on, as well: “I’m looking to focus in on Fish and Game, as well as education.”
One big goal for Ortiz is to remain accessible to constituents.
“Don’t hesitate,” he said. “If there’s anybody out there that has a particular concern, a particular interest, relationship to state government, that they communicate with me and I’ll certainly work as hard as I can to facilitate, and try to help facilitate the particular interest they might have. That’s my job and I want to make sure everyone knows that the door is always going to be open.”
House District 36 covers the southern tip of Alaska’s Southeast region. It includes Ketchikan, Saxman, Wrangell, Metlakatla, Hydaburg, Hyder, Loring and Myers Chuck.