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We Build Alaska

Tensions rise in House with five days left until end of regular session

Tensions are escalating in the House as the end of the regular session approaches. The constitutional 121-day limit is Wednesday at midnight.

The Senate Finance Committee served up a turducken budget yesterday – rolling the capital and supplemental budgets into the House version of the operating budget they sent to the Senate on April 17. This prevents the House from officially weighing in on the capital budget and forces them into an up or down vote on the turducken budget.

The Senate majority held a press conference late yesterday afternoon to explain the turducken. Senator Lyman Hoffman (D – Bethel), one of his chamber’s finance co-chairs, said the House won’t tell them what their capital budget priorities are.

Leadership of both bodies met privately yesterday evening to continue negotiations. Sources report House leadership was still not able to articulate a counter offer to the Senate. The House majority has been holding out for a 50/50 dividend, which would cost approximately $1.7 billion and require a savings draw on the dwindling Constitutional Budget Reserve to fund. But the 23-member House majority fell seven votes shy of the 30 votes needed to access the CBR, and they have also been unwilling to discuss budget cuts or new revenues.

The Senate’s turducken budget pays a 25/75 dividend and includes a step-up to an energy rebate next year if oil prices average above $83 a barrel. It also balances, meaning it does not require a three-quarters vote to access the CBR. The House majority has not held a press conference or press availability since the Senate Finance Committee made their move yesterday. Several House majority members have expressed anger and frustration with the Senate, but have also yet to offer up a viable alternative.

During a House floor session today, a bill from Representative Sarah Vance (R – Homer) prohibiting the state to enter into contracts with companies who are boycotting Israel, failed on a 20-20 vote. The majority rarely puts bills on the floor that don’t have the votes to pass. So one of the members of the majority flipped. When asked who flipped, Vance refused to answer.

During an at ease, it appeared the majority was trying to convince someone to change their vote so it could pass. But then Representative Jennie Armstrong (D – Anchorage) motioned to discharge House Bill 99 from Vance’s Judiciary Committee. HB 99 is a bill from Armstrong that prohibits discrimination against LGBT people.

Earlier, Armstrong spoke about the hypocrisy of some House members saying it’s wrong to discriminate against Israel and legislators (there’s also a House bill on the floor prohibiting insurance discrimination against elected officials) but that it’s ok to discriminate against LGBT people. The motion to discharge the bill failed 18-22, but Representatives Neal Foster (D – Nome) and CJ McCormick (D – Bethel), both majority members, voted yes.

Then, Representative Jesse Sumner (R – Wasilla) motioned to discharge Senate Bill 53 from Vance’s Judiciary Committee. SB 53 is Senator Matt Claman’s (D – Anchorage) bill to allow involuntary commitment for violent offenders deemed unfit to stand trial. Sumner eventually withdrew his motion. But a majority member trying to discharge a bill from a committee shows how unstable things are within the House majority.

This evening, Representative Ben Carpenter (R – Nikiski) abruptly gaveled out the House Ways and Means Committee. They were scheduled to take up his sales tax bill but he was upset that the House Finance Committee altered Representative Will Stapp’s (R – Fairbanks) spending cap bill earlier today. Carpenter basically said the spending cap is now worthless and he won’t pass out a tax bill with a spending cap that would allow $1 billion more in spending than what the current budge is.

The Senate Finance Committee has noticed the budget for tomorrow morning. They could pass it out of committee and then the full body can pass it out tomorrow afternoon during their floor session. Or they might wait until Monday to send it.

The House does not have many moves left. They could concur with the Senate budget, but that would require at least five majority members assuming all 16 minority members vote yes. However, Representative David Eastman (R – Wasilla) told the Landmine he has been approached by members of the majority and minority, and while he is not a yes vote on concurrence now, he is in play. If he votes yes, just four majority members would be needed.

If they do not concur, the clock will time out on Wednesday at midnight. There is not enough time for a conference committee before that. The votes are not there for the Legislature to extend 10 days or call themselves into a special session (both require two-thirds). This leaves it to Governor Mike Dunleavy (R – Alaska) to call a special session. He has one hour after adjournment to call a special session that is not subject to the normal 30-day notice. He gets to set the agenda. He could use the current budget bills, allowing the Legislature to pick up where they left off. Or he could introduce new budget bills, resetting the process. He has been silent on all of this. So it’s hard to say what he will do.

A special session would last 30 days. Many members are scheduled to leave next week. Pink slips to teachers and state workers go out soon. The new fiscal year starts on July 1 – meaning there will be a government shutdown if a budget is not enacted by then.

The Senate has run the clock out the last month and seem content to do it again. While a special session could result in some Senate concessions to the House, the reality is not much would change. The next five days are sure to be loose!

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1 year ago

The Senate sure is pushing the power play. The House should push back. Depending on ehow this llays out, which without a doubt will not serve the best interest of Alaskans, Dunleavy better have that special session declaration written up. If I were him I’d drop it seconds after they gavel out.

Robert Redlinger
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve-O

The House is in disarray. The Senate just said Checkmate to the House.

1 year ago

Nobody in Juneau is playing chess, they don’t even know how to play Connect 4.

Joe Geldhof
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve-O

Really thoughtful and insightful comment here Steve-O.

Try and say something worthwhile next time.

1 year ago
Reply to  Joe Geldhof

Thanks for the thoughtful and insightful response Joe.

I was going to go with beer pong, but thought better of it and went with Connect 4.

Beer Aficianado
1 year ago

Legislators don’t “motion” that something be adopted, delayed, advanced, etc. They “move” (and often ask for unanimous consent in the same breath). You’re using the verb “motion” wrong. Rep. X would motion if she waved to Rep. Y, come over here.

StuckintheMatSu Mud
1 year ago

Sumner Eastman and Carpenter?
The Caveman and the Nazi sympathizers.
So proud of our Legislature!