Juneau Empire OPINION: Juneau stands to benefit significantly from the 117th Congress
Earlier this month, the 117th Congress adjourned, marking the close of a remarkably productive legislative stretch for Alaska. The last Congress was one of the best for our state in recent memory, and the bipartisan bills we passed during it will produce lasting benefits for Juneau and across Southeast.
One of the most significant achievements is the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which I played a lead role on. In just over a year, roughly $3 billion from it has been announced for Alaska. Those dollars are helping us build, expand, and modernize everything from roads, bridges, ports, and airports to our water, energy, broadband, and ferry systems. In doing so, we’re creating jobs, boosting our economy, and transforming lives.
Locally, the infrastructure law has provided significant funding for airport improvements as will the major investments I included to support our ferries. The recent announcement of $285 million for the Alaska Marine Highway System will allow us to upgrade docks in five communities, modernize several vessels including the Tazlina and Kennicott, and design a new mainliner—restoring and improving service throughout Southeast Alaska.
In addition to the infrastructure bill, the budget packages we passed over the past year included hundreds of millions of dollars in standard allocations for Alaska—including for landslide monitoring and transboundary watershed monitoring. Working with leaders across the state, we also leveraged my position as a senior appropriator to directly fund nearly 200 projects without adding to federal spending levels.
Juneau stands to benefit significantly from these projects. To cite a few examples, we directed funding to begin the process for a second crossing to North Douglas, which will open new lands sorely needed for housing; to design and construct a composting facility for the community; and to construct housing for homeless children and families. We also provided funding for Southeast Conference to help establish a pilot program for electric ferries and for the Teal Street Center, a facility that will host multiple organizations providing public health and social services for vulnerable populations.
We’ve provided historic investments for our Alaska-based Coast Guard—upgrading assets, investing in shoreside infrastructure, and improving emergency communications. We simultaneously worked to improve the quality of life and mental health of those who serve by addressing the Guard’s unfunded priority list, investing in housing, childcare, and personnel—supporting Coasties based right here in Juneau.
To honor our ironclad obligations to veterans, we passed the PACT Act, which will ensure healthcare access and treatment for all those impacted by toxic exposures.
We celebrate the historic salmon returns in Bristol Bay, but other fisheries in our state – and the communities that depend on them – are in crisis. To provide relief and help tide Alaskans over, we secured multiple rounds of fishery disaster assistance. We also funded new fisheries surveys and chartered a federal research task force to get to the bottom of these alarming declines.
To help diversify Alaska’s economy, the 117th Congress approved funding to help establish a mariculture industry that could someday run all along our southern coast. Legislation like my BLUE GLOBE Act will allow coastal communities throughout Southeast to invest in technology innovations and protect our oceans while spurring economic development and growth in ocean-based jobs. We funded a microgrants program I created to enable more food to be grown in Alaska.
We passed my legislation to provide 360,000 acres to the University of Alaska—helping to fulfill its land grant in support of its students, faculty, and campus infrastructure. The University of Alaska Southeast will also receive directed funding to establish and operate a commercial driver’s license education training program.
We saved the 2021 cruise season through the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act at a time when Southeast was devastated by the impacts of the pandemic, paving the way for an even stronger rebound this past summer.
Finally, we took great care to address some of the most acute sources of pain and suffering in our state. We reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act, continued to prioritize the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women and children, devoted real resources to reducing homelessness, and improved access to mental health and wellness services.
While we still have a hole in our hearts from the loss of the Congressman for all Alaska, Don Young, we honored his legacy by passing many of the bills he worked on, including three land conveyances that will help improve Alaska Native medical access. One of those, to convey IHS lands to the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, will allow them to construct new health care facilities to better serve Southeast.
As the 118th Congress begins, I’m proud of what our congressional delegation accomplished over the last two years, and grateful for the opportunity to continue serving the state and people I love. Rest assured that for as long as I have the honor of being your Senator, I will do everything I can to deliver for you and for Alaska.
By: Lisa Murkowski
Source: Juneau Empire