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We Build Alaska

Uncertainty looms with no budget deal one day before session ends

The 121-day constitutional session will come to an end tomorrow when the clock strikes midnight. And there is still no budget deal. The Senate opted to hold on to their “turducken” budget today instead of passing it and transmitting it to the House.

The turducken budget – which includes the operating, capital, and supplemental budgets – is in House Bill 39, the operating budget bill the House sent to the Senate on April 17.

Because it’s a House bill, the House can only vote to approve or reject it – whenever the Senate sends it back. The Legislature’s Uniform Rules say a bill must sit in the other body for 24 hours before a concurrence vote can be taken. However, this is not a constitutional requirement and can be ignored with 21 votes in the House and 11 votes in the Senate. Senator Bill Wielechowski (D – Anchorage), the Senate rules chair, reiterated this today after the Senate’s floor session ended.

So, technically, a budget deal could still be reached by tomorrow through a House concurrence vote. But this is not likely. The House majority wants a larger dividend and the Senate majority does not want to dip into savings to pay for it. It’s that simple.

If the House does not concur, the budget differences would need to be resolved in a conference committee. But there is no time for that in the regular session.

The Legislature does have the option to extend 10 days with a two-thirds vote of each body. But it’s unlikely the House has the votes to do that, and the Senate has said they won’t do that. A lot of legislators are scheduled to leave town after session ends tomorrow night. The Legislature can also call themselves into a special session at a later date, but that also requires a two-thirds vote and, like extending 10 days, the votes are not there.

The last option is Governor Mike Dunleavy (R – Alaska) calls a special session. He has one hour after adjournment to call a special session that is not subject to the normal 30-day notice requirement. But he’s been radio silent on this. Today, the Landmine finally got a response from his press office asking if he will call a special session and when it will start. Here is the response:

Governor Dunleavy has been meeting with legislators on both sides of the aisle, and he hopes they will come up with a resolution between now and tomorrow. The Governor has always advocated for a budget that funds core services and provides a fair dividend.

The statement did not indicate what he plans to do. There’s been some talk that he won’t do anything and force the Legislature to work it out. There’s also been talk that he will call a special session starting on Thursday or on June 1. No one really seems to know. The advantage for him when he calls a specials session is he gets to set the agenda.

Pink slips to state workers and teachers will start going out soon. If a budget isn’t passed and enacted by July 1 – the start of the new fiscal year – there will be a government shutdown. This is never happened before in Alaska, so it’s not exactly clear what would happen. But government functions would definitely be disrupted.

The House passed Senate Bill 48 – one of Dunleavy’s carbon bills – today on a vote of 38-2. It passed the Senate yesterday unanimously. The House did not amend it, meaning it is now awaiting transmittal to Dunleavy to be signed into law. This bill was a major priority for Dunleavy. So he’s probably willing to work with legislative leadership on the terms of a special session. But it’s still a guessing game at this point.

The House majority also has some major internal issues. Last night, what was supposed to be a routine House Finance Committee to hear Senator Lyman Hoffman’s (D – Bethel) school internet bill went completely off the rails.

It all started when Representative DeLena Johnson (R – Palmer), one of the finance co-chairs, ran an amendment to put part of Senate Bill 52 – the bill increasing the Base Student Allocation – into the school internet bill. She just wanted the part for pupil transportation money. But this caught her colleagues off guard, most of whom did not know she intended to do this. After a long delay, her amendment passed 8-3.

Then, Representative Andy Josephson (D – Anchorage) decided to just follow her lead and roll the rest of SB 52 into the bill, effectively adding the BSA increase into the school internet bill. This is when things went off the rails. House Speaker Cathy Tilton (R – Wasilla) and Representative Craig Johnson (R – Anchorage), the House rules chair, both came into the room to signal their disapproval for what was happening. Josephson’s amendment passed 8-3, and the bill was held until today. The amended bill ended up being passed unanimously out of the finance committee today. But the bill is still being drafted and was not read over today on the House floor.

Craig Johnson, who decides what bills go to the floor, would probably not schedule the bill for a floor vote even if was read over today. And even if the votes were there to discharge it from the House Rules Committee and pass it, Dunleavy would almost certainly veto it. But the whole situation demonstrated the level of dysfunction in the House majority.

Negotiations are ongoing, but a deal for a concurrence vote tomorrow is extremely unlikely. The Senate did make a new offer to the House today. Sources confirm the Senate offered an energy rebate if oil prices average above $73 per barrel for the next fiscal year. It would be up to $500 if oil prices average $83, and would be paid out next fall. That does not seem to be enough to entice enough House majority members to get a deal.

Many House majority members want capital projects in their districts. Because the Senate never sent the House the capital budget, the House has not been able to officially weigh in. And the Senate is not allowing individual district projects, only statewide and regional projects. The House majority is especially angry about this and is a big reason why a deal is unlikely.

Today was hot in Juneau. Tomorrow is forecast to be hotter. Anything is possible but the most likely outcome is no deal and then some kind of a special session. Dunleavy will be forced to say or do something tomorrow night if there is no deal. Tomorrow is sure to be loose in the Capitol!

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floridawoman
1 year ago

There is a third option: Dunleavy continues not to lead and neither does anything nor says anything both of which there is documented history of.

Scott
1 year ago
Reply to  floridawoman

What would you have him do? Would you prefer the Governor hang out in Senate hearings with the rest of the constituents? Should he send an email to House members to tell them what to do? Maybe he can spend some time directing judges at the courthouse?. Would be really neat if he used the power of his office to influence the Anchorage and Fairbanks school board. After that he can swing by the Chugach electric board for a little reminder of who is in charge. An email or two and he can also resolve disputes between high school wrestlers… Read more »

Steve-O
1 year ago
Reply to  Scott

The problem is many people, especially people on the left, crave tyranny. They want, and think, that the Executive branch holds the ultimate authority, at least when they want it too. At other times, when it serves their purpose, they think the judicial branch holds the ultimate authority. It really is a shortsighted and incorrect understanding of how our government is supposed to function.

Floridawoman
1 year ago
Reply to  Scott

I would like him to put as much effort into crafting fiscal future plan for Alaska as he did to give himself a raise:

talk about executive branch interference!!!!

Steve-O
1 year ago

“The Senate opted to hold on to their “turducken” budget today instead of passing it and transmitting it to the House.” “the operating budget bill the House sent to the Senate on April 17.” “whenever the Senate sends it back.” “resolved in a conference committee. But there is no time for that in the regular session.” “the Senate has said they won’t do that” “If a budget isn’t passed and enacted by July 1 – the start of the new fiscal year – there will be a government shutdown.” “the Senate never sent the House the capital budget” “the Senate… Read more »

floridawoman
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve-O

To be factual-The House passed an unfunded budget (no chance for CBR withdrawal vote to pass), hence they did not do their job either.

Both the Senate and House did manage to find time to pass a bill funding a CO2 credit scam which involved a fiscal note.

The state might as well sell granite mining waste credits being weathering of granite has a long history of sequestering CO2.

Floridawoman
1 year ago
Reply to  floridawoman

edit- And both the Senate and the House did manage to find the time to pass a bill giving themselves raises while claiming there is no state funds available to pay for a $10,000 easement sign for the public.

Steve-O
1 year ago
Reply to  floridawoman

The House did in fact send a incompletely funded budget to the Senate, they did so with an understanding that the Senate was working on their version of the budget and that the budget differences and details would be worked out between the equal chambers of our bicameral legislature. Unfortunately the Senate was not operating in good faith.

Floridawoman
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve-O

The Governor forgot to include the mental health budget…two years ago he forgot to veto $4 billion dollars….for sure he and his fellow elected officials deserve their raises.

The House is in disarray and the Senate did what they could. You can not negotiate with Medusa let alone her snakes.