2015 Session Begins
Legislative Consultants in Alaska (Wendy Chamberlain)

January 18, 2015

What a difference a year makes.

If you spend a day in the Legislative building you will probably hear the same question asked numerous times -“How low did oil prices fall today?”    For many legislators, balancing next year’s budget seems like a daunting task.  The latest estimates show the state facing a $3.2 billion deficit in the next fiscal year.   However, before legislators can tackle next year’s financial challenges they must appropriate more than $3.5 billion to pay for the current year’s operating/capital budget deficit.  This year’s budget was based on a per barrel oil price of $104.

Governor Walker asked his department heads last month to give him a “quick initial assessment” of the implementation and impact of two levels of budget cuts, one of 5 percent and one of 8 percent.  The reports will not be made public until after Governor Walker releases his new budget plan due no later than February 18, 2015.  Governor Walker has made it clear; all options are on the table.    In a departure from recent years Governor Walker will deliver an extra speech to lawmakers at the start of the legislative session next week, a Thursday address on the state budget that will follow the traditional State of the State speech Wednesday.  The Governor wants to make the public aware of the dire fiscal problems facing the state and allow the public time to absorb the possible impacts. Past governors have delivered separate State of the Budget speeches, but none have done so since Frank Murkowski in 2006.  I will provide a budget impact analysis in my next report.

What options are available to lessen the impact?

The state has $12 billion in its’ budget reserve account, however unless significant reductions are made to existing programs the state’s reserves will be depleted within three years.  On a more positive note Governor Walker recently presented estimates to the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce that include stretching existing reserves through 2021 with a static budget.  By 2022, education spending will increase from $1.78 billion this year to $2.26 billion in FY 2022; Medicaid will grow from $760 million this year to $1.337 billion in FY 2022.  A static plan will put pressure on areas such as Education increases; rising health care costs and State Employee pay raises.

Most budget cutting scenarios center around “making it through” until 2024 when the gas pipeline is projected to be operational.  Estimates show the large gas pipeline and liquefied natural gas project will generate around $4 billion a year in new revenue.  Alaska is well positioned to make it through these challenging times.

Six megaprojects halted

Last week Governor Walker ordered a spending halt on six (6) megaprojects.  The projects include Knik Arm Crossing, Juneau Access Road, Ambler Road access, Susitna Watana hydroelectric dam, the small diameter pipeline and the Kodiak rocket/missile launch complex.

On January 9, 2015 the Dept. of Transportation released a proposed amendment to the State’s Surface Transportation Improvement Project. $50 million will be reallocation from the Knik Arm bridge project and $104 million from the Juneau Access Project.  The amendment requests authorization to spend this funding on 20 smaller projects in Whittier, Kenai, Prince of Wales, Anchorage and Mat-Su.

Pat Kemp, former Commissioner of the Dept. of Transportation was fired recently after he signed a letter stating that stopping these two projects would “trigger a financial penalty” from the Federal Highway Administration. Total money spent so far amounts to $72.9 million for the Knik Arm Bridge and $25.7 million for the Juneau Access Road.

 Industry spending continues on the North Slope

Despite falling oil prices state economists are optimistic oil companies will maintain or increase current capital spending levels.  State petroleum tax law requires producers to submit a three-year capital spending projection to the state.  These projections indicate spending could increase to almost $5 billion next year.  Cook Inlet producer’s investments have increased sharply.  In 2015 capital investment in the Cook Inlet will have doubled since 2011.

 Minimum Wage goes into effect

Some Alaskans will see an increase in their paycheck beginning February 28, 2015 when the new $8.75 minimum wage goes into effect.  Ballot Measure 3, which voters approved overwhelmingly sets the Alaska minimum wage at least $1 dollar above the federal minimum wage.

Worker Compensation rates see a reduction

The Dept. of Labor and Workforce Development recently announced workplace injuries dropped 46 percent last year. As a result of this decrease Workers’ Compensation premiums for Alaska employers dropped 2.6 percent this year.  An aggressive safety-training program implemented by seafood processors significantly reduced workplace accidents.

Medicaid expansion a high priority for Governor Walker

Newly appointed Health and Social Services Commissioner Val Davidson has a huge task, implementing Medicaid expansion in Alaska.  Davidson remains optimistic enrollment will begin in July, 2015, however the department must overcome significant technical problems that have plagued the system resulting in years of delays.  Governor Walker and Commissioner Davidson will need to persuade the Legislature to give the agency authority to accept federal Medicaid funds.  Legislators are open to considering Medicaid expansion but have expressed concerns over the start up costs ($8-12 million) that must be paid for by the state.

A look at the House of Representatives

This session there are eight (8) new faces in the House of Representatives.  The House comprises 23 Republicans, 16 Democrats and 1 NP.   Four (4) rural Democrats joined with Republicans to form a 27 (twenty-seven) member Republican led coalition.

The Senate organization

14 Republicans and one rural Democrat (Lyman Hoffman) will lead the Senate.  The Senate membership has a lot of budget experience; this will be very helpful given the budget challenges.

We look forward to seeing you all in Juneau soon.  If you have any questions please call our office in Juneau at 907-230-4308.

REALTORS® Vision Insurance

NAR’s Strategic Alliances Team is pleased to announce the introduction of a new offering which expands the REALTORS® Insurance Marketplace platform, under the Association’s REALTOR Benefits® Program: REALTORS® Vision Insurance.

Vision insurance has long been one of our most requested member benefits. REALTORS® Vision Insurance is designed exclusively for members of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® and their families. There are two guaranteed-issue group plans from which to choose: a PPO option and a non-PPO option. Both provide great, competitive rates and include annual eye exam benefits and savings on frames, lenses, and contact lenses.

REALTORS® Vision Insurance is underwritten and administered by Ameritas Group and SASid, Inc., the same trusted companies responsible for NAR’s successful and long-term group dental plan, REALTORS® Dental Insurance.

If you haven’t explored REALTORS® Insurance Marketplace lately, I encourage you to do so and to remind your members of this important resource. REALTORS® Vision Insurance rounds out the platform of robust insurance and wellness products available through the Marketplace. Here, members will find a private major medical health insurance exchange, dental insurance, supplementary health plans, short term health insurance, a telemedicine service plan, a prescription drug discount card, and now an excellent choice for vision insurance. The Marketplace makes plan enrollment easy, and benefit specialists are available via phone to answer all questions. Personal consultations are complimentary.

Please find below a fact sheet outlining the details of this new offer. For questions about REALTORS® Vision Insurance or the REALTOR Benefits® Program, please call me at extension 8269 or contact a member of the REALTOR Benefits® Program team listed in the “NAR Contact Information” section of the fact sheet.

REALTORS® Vision Insurance

Fact Sheet

 What:  NAR announces the addition of a new offering to REALTORS® Insurance Marketplace, under the REALTOR Benefits® Program: REALTORS® Vision Insurance.

 Launch Date:  November 13, 2015

 Who Is Eligible:  NAR members and their families. REALTOR® Association staff with a NRDS ID and their families. See the website for state and territory availability.

 There is an option for Brokers and REALTOR® Associations who are interested in setting up a List-Billing option for their employees.  Please contact SASid directly at 877-267-3752 to learn more.

 REALTORS® Vision Insurance Benefits and Highlights

There are two plans from which to choose: the Premier PPO Vision Plan and the Freedom Vision Plan.

Premier PPO Vision Plan

  • Plans begin at $12.70 per month, with a one-time $10 enrollment fee
  • Group member benefits on annual eye exams, frames, lenses, and contact lenses
  • Plan has a preferred network: EyeMed Select; seeing in-network eye-care professionals can reduce out-of-pocket costs
  • EyeMed Select network includes 42,000+ providers at over 19,000 locations nationwide, including LensCrafters, Target Optical, Pearle Vision, Sears Optical, and JCPenney Optical
  • Discounts on LASIK or PRK procedures at US Laser Network participating providers


Freedom Vision Plan (non-PPO)

  • Plans begin at $14.06 per month, with a one-time $10 enrollment fee
  • Group member benefits on annual eye exams, frames, lenses, and contact lenses
  • This is a non-PPO plan: you have the freedom to visit the eye-care professional of your choice
  • Enjoy an additional 15% discount off of eyewear frames and lenses at Walmart Vision Centers
  • Coupons, promotional discounts, and negotiated prices can also be used with this plan
  • How it works: you pay your eye-care provider at time of service, and then submit a claim form and receipt to Ameritas Group, the underwriter, for reimbursement. Calendar year maximum is $200.Visit the REALTORS® Vision Insurance website for complete plan details, exclusions, and restrictions.

About Ameritas

REALTORS® Vision Insurance is underwritten by Ameritas Group, a division of Ameritas Life Insurance Company, the long-term underwriter for NAR’s popular dental insurance program, REALTORS® Dental Insurance. Ameritas is rated “A” (Excellent) by A.M. Best Company.

 About SASid, Inc.

The administrator for REALTORS® Vision Insurance is SASid, Inc. (Smart and Simple Insurance Development), the long-term and trusted NAR partner responsible for creating and managing REALTORS® Insurance Marketplace, which houses NAR’s insurance and wellness solutions, including:

  • Members Health Insurance Exchange
  • SMART Short Term Medical
  • REALTORS® Dental
  • Members TeleHealth
  • Accident Deductible Protection
  • REALTORS® Core Health
  • Drug Card America

Since 2009, REALTORS® nationwide have put their trust in SASid to help them navigate and enroll in the right insurance plans for themselves and their families. SASid develops technologies and online insurance products from top insurance carriers and nationwide distribution networks.

 To Learn More 

 NAR Contact Information

Anne Cadigan, Strategic Alliances Account Manager



Kristin Maurelia, Managing Director, Strategic Alliances



 Ken Burlington, Vice President, Strategic Alliances



We’ve narrowed down the details into a few key points for easy sharing.

 Note: information is valid as of November 2015 and approved for use through 12/31/2015. If interested in sharing this information past 12/31/2015, please contact NAR’s Strategic Alliances Team at 1-800-NAR-5233.

 New offer! The National Association of REALTORS® announces the addition of a new insurance plan which expands the REALTORS® Insurance Marketplace platform under the Association’s REALTOR Benefits® Program: REALTORS® Vision Insurance.

NAR members and their families are eligible, and there are two plans from which to choose. Both plans offer group member benefits for annual eye exams, frames, lenses, and contact lenses.

  1. Premier PPO Vision Plan has a preferred network of providers, with plans beginning at $12.70.
  2. Freedom Vision Plan (non-PPO) allows you to choose any provider, with plans beginning at $14.06.

 Visit Realtor.org/VisionInsurance to learn more.  

The REALTOR Benefits® Program is the official member benefits program of the National Association of REALTORS®, connecting members with discounts and special offers on products and services just for REALTORS®. Current partner listing and offer details can be found at REALTOR.org/RealtorBenefits. Follow us on Facebook.

Contact Information

Alaska Association of REALTORS®
4205 Minnesota Drive
Anchorage, Alaska 99503

Phone (907) 563-7133
FAX (907) 561-1779
Toll-Free (800) 478-3763