House District 36 Rep. Dan Ortiz offered his first open office hours in Ketchikan on Friday.
Ortiz has been on the job in Juneau since Jan. 20th, when he was sworn in, and he says it’s been non-stop ever since.
“I was not overly surprised, but it was apparent soon that I was going to be busy, busy, busy. Lots of people coming in, constituents coming in, interest groups coming in; and I’m on four committees, so the initial committee hears have already taken place, and then the floor sessions. It’s been – I don’t want to say hectic – but it’s been busy for sure.”
His open hours at Ketchikan’s Legislative Information Office also was busy. He had a steady stream of constituents coming in to discuss issues that they are particularly interested in. One was Ginger Fortin, who recently moved to Ketchikan from Homer. She
brought a friend who was visiting from Homer, and Fortin wanted to express her support for the Alaska Marine Highway System and the service that the ferries provide.
“Just in the past week, I heard they’re closing the bars on the ferries? And they’re going to raise fares. It seems to me if they promoted the bars, they might make enough that they wouldn’t have to raise fares.”
Ortiz is on the Transportation Committee and the sub-finance committee for transportation. He told Fortin that the state is facing a $3.5 million budget deficit.
“Right now, in the governor’s budget, everybody is taking a hit. All the departments are taking a hit, and of course the ferry system is taking a hit. But in fairness to the ferry system, they’ve already been taking hits, even before this year.”
After Fortin and her friend left, Ortiz talked a little more about the budget. He says that the fiscal constraints forced on lawmakers seem to have inspired a spirit of cooperation.
“We’re all in this together, and this $3.5 million deficit is going to have to be addressed and I think there’s, at least initially, a willingness to do it in a bipartisan fashion. We’ll see if that continues.”
Ortiz is not affiliated with a political party, but he is a member of the minority Democratic Caucus.
Ortiz filed some bills before the session started, and says they are working their way through the process. He says it’s still too early to say how well they’ll be received. One of those bills would reinstate a public-input process before the Department of Transportation is allowed to spray pesticides or herbicides along state highways.
Ortiz says that was of particular concern to constituents in Hydaburg on Prince of Wales Island.
Another bill that would increase funding for preschools likely won’t go anywhere this year, because of the cost involved.
“I believe that in the end it will save education dollars if we get more access to preschool, so I believe in it from that sense. Plus, I just think it’s good for kids. (But) I don’t see that one having much of a chance in this particular session.”
The deficit leading to all the budget cuts and restrained spending is the result of low oil prices. The vast majority of Alaska’s revenue comes from oil taxes.
This Legislative session lasts through April 19th. Ortiz says he wants constituent input, and hopes everyone with a concern contacts his office.
His number in Juneau is 907-465-3824, and his email is Representative.Dan.Ortiz@akleg.gov