Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there! Just three days remain until the end of the regular legislative session. And in what has been a broken record phrase the last month, there is still no budget deal. The Senate Finance Committee cooked up the long anticipated “turducken” budget this week, but the Senate has still not transmitted the budget back to the House for a concurrence vote. Floor sessions were scheduled today for the House and Senate, but both were cancelled. A special session is all but inevitable at this point.
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Here’s how this year’s legislative session could end
The following is an excerpt from this week’s edition of the Alaska Political Report. You can click here for more information about the Political Report. A subscription is $1,299/year per organization. Discounted pricing is available for non-profits and government entities. Our coverage of the budget starts with the governor’s proposed budget in mid-December and we track everything in detail through the entire process. If you have any questions or would like to subscribe, please email email@example.com.
The clock is ticking. Just six days are left (this was originally published on 5/11) until the 121-day constitutional session limit. We dug into the turducken budget above, and covered how there’s not enough time left for a conference committee to meet.
The budget still needs to pass out of the Senate Finance Committee. Then it needs to go to the Senate floor, where amendments will be debated before it’s passed out. Then it needs to sit in the House for 24 hours before members can take action. The Senate probably won’t transmit the budget until Saturday at the earliest, but more likely Monday.
There are multiple scenarios after the House gets the budget. Here they are:
- The House could simply concur with the Senate’s changes, accepting the turducken — the capital, operating and supplemental budgets combined — as Senators approved it. This requires 21 votes in the 40-member House. If all 16 minority members vote yes, just five majority members would need to agree to reach a concurrence. The last time this happened — a budget passing with mostly minority votes — was in 1982. Because, unlike the House’s budget, the Senate proposal does not draw from savings, a three-fourths vote would not be needed. (The House failed to get those votes when they passed their budget, which had a bigger dividend and required money from the Constitutional Budget Reserve account.) However, 27 votes are required in the House to give the budget an effective date of July 1, the start of the new fiscal year. This so-called “effective date clause” is written in the Alaska Constitutional: Without a two-thirds vote in each body, bills take effect in 90 days. If the House can muster 21 votes to concur, there’s still a good chance that there won’t be enough majority members to make the budget effective July 1; instead, the legislation would take effect in mid-August. This nearly happened in 2021, but was averted at the last minute. It’s unclear how government operations would be affected if a budget passes without a July 1 effective date. But based on multiple conservations we’ve had with House majority members, a concurrence vote does not seem likely. Several expressed frustration with the process and said the Senate didn’t put enough capital money for their personal priorities to get them to consider a “yes” vote. This could still change, but it would be a big lift. Even if a concurrence happens, the budget is still subject to veto by the governor.
- The other, obvious scenario is that the House does not concur with the Senate’s changes. If this happens, the operating budget would return to the Senate to give them a chance to return to the House version of the proposal, which won’t happen. This leaves three additional scenarios:
- The Legislature votes to extend the session for 10 days. This requires a two-thirds vote from each body. But support seems to be missing for this option.
- Alaska GOP Gov. Mike Dunleavy calls a special session. He has one hour after the Legislature adjourns to do this without giving legislators a normal, 30-day notice. He can either start the new session immediately, or give lawmakers a break and start it toward the end of May or early June. Dunleavy has the authority to set the agenda for any special session he calls. He can put the current budget bills on the call, letting the Legislature pick up where they left off. Or, he can introduce his own new budget bills, which would start the process all over. Several legislators have plans to leave next week, after the session is scheduled to end. We reached out to Dunleavy’s office asking when he would call a special session and what would be on the agenda if the Legislature does not pass a budget. They would not provide a comment, but we’ve heard from sources in the administration that if this happens, Dunleavy would start a special session immediately.
- The Legislature calls itself into its own special session. This also requires a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, but, like extending, the necessary support seems to be missing — even though if lawmakers choose this option, they’d be able to set their own agenda.
- There is one more nuclear option. Article II, Section 10 of the Alaska Constitution states, “Neither house may adjourn or recess for longer than three days unless the other concurs. If the two houses cannot agree on the time of adjournment and either house certifies the disagreement to the governor, he may adjourn the legislature.” If the House majority and Dunleavy decide they’ve had enough with the Senate, this could happen. Then Dunleavy would call a special session. This scenario is not likely as it would blow things up and anger the Senate, but it is a possible scenario.
Dunleavy’s carbon bills are still in play. And the Senate’s budget does not have the Clean Water Act permitting takeover that the governor’s administration requested. These could figure into some kind of last-minute deal. If the Senate agrees to passing Dunleavy’s carbon bills and adding back the permitting proposal, the governor could lean on House Republicans for a concurrence vote.
We were not able to get any official comment from the House majority before we sent this out tonight.
Negotiations are ongoing between the House and Senate on a budget deal. The House majority is unhappy the Senate never sent them the capital budget and is giving them a take it or leave it on the turducken. The Senate majority says the House majority does not know what it wants. For example, sources report during a recent meeting the Senate majority asked the House majority what they wanted to cut a deal. They offered up a constitutional spending cap or putting the dividend in the constitution. The Senate said fine, send it over. But then the House backtracked and said they don’t actually have the votes. A constitutional amendment requires two-thirds of each body to pass, then a vote of the people. The House majority only has 23, and not all of them are on board with those kind of constitutional amendments. And the House majority has not really been engaging the House minority. The House majority have truly painted themselves into a corner.
The House majority is also experiencing a bunch of internal conflicts that became evident this week. You can read about those in this recent Landmine article.
Maybe we are all about to find out!
Several House majority members are wearing “FAFO” pins today. Stands for fuck around and find out! Very loose. #akleg pic.twitter.com/pabv2aYXpb
— The Alaska Landmine (@alaskalandmine) May 13, 2023
The Legislature held a joint session on Tuesday (5/9/2023) to confirm Governor Dunleavy’s department heads as well as nominees to boards and commissions. Everyone was confirmed except Bethany Marcum to the Board of Regents. She fell two votes short of the 31 votes required. After, Dunleavy reappointed her to the Redistricting Board. They still have some work left to do after the Supreme Court published their official ruling. But it seems unlikely the map will change. The Redistricting Board has a meeting scheduled for tomorrow at 1 pm.
The Senate passed Senate Bill 52 – a permanent increase to the Base Student Allocation – this week in a 16-3 vote. It is now in the House. Unless this becomes part of some last minute deal, which is unlikely, this will be something the House will look at during next year’s session.
Former Anchorage Assembly member Suzanne LaFrance filed a letter of intent this week to run for Anchorage mayor next April. So far it’s just her and Mayor Dave Bronson who have filed letter of intent, though there is a lot of chatter that former Democratic Representative Chris Tuck will jump into the race.
This Week’s Loose Unit
There are so many deserving candidates this week it’s really hard to choose one. But after careful consideration, this week’s Loose Unit is a tie between the House majority and the Senate majority. It’s pretty obvious the House majority has no real consensus or plan on the budget. This was covered last week and above. They can’t even make a real offer to the Senate! But the Senate majority is also running loose. For months they have been saying there was no plan to cook up a turducken budget. But that is exactly what they did this week. This is classic Loose Unit behavior. And I really need to throw in Governor Dunleavy as a bonus Loose Unit. He has not said a damn word about any of this. He could step in and help get to a deal, or at the very least tell the public where he is on all of this. But it’s been total radio silence from the third floor. Very loose. We are all about to truly find out on Wednesday night when the all but inevitable special session is called.
If you have a nomination for this week’s Loose Unit, or if you have any political news, stories or gossip (or any old pics of politicians or public officials) please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dunleavy doesn’t want to paint himself into a public corner. He will negotiate in private and try to ease everyone towards a solution he can sign. Simple political procedure. He has 3 more years with the senate part and would like to get some long range things done.
Having no plan, is actually one of the worst kinds-The Bard
In the last 5 years, do we see much evidence that Dunleavy has engaged in private negotiation with anybody who wasn’t a campaign donor?
Civil War historian Shelby Foot commenting on what lead to the American Civil War: “It was because we failed to do the thing we really have a genius for, which is compromise. Americans like to think of themselves as uncompromising. Our true genius is for compromise. Our whole government’s founded on it. And, it failed.” We no longer have the money to simply fund our way out of any problems we face. Therefore, when these megalomanic, vindictive and very incompetent Alaska politicians at the end of the regular session have nothing to offer but a lapel button warning “FAFO”.(which apparently… Read more »
Can we go back to Territorial status? Might be our best move.