With just under nine hours left before the end of the special session, things in Juneau have gone completely off the rails. Governor Mike Dunleavy (R – Alaska) says that he will not sign the budget because the House failed to pass an effective date clause. What does that mean? The Alaska Constitution says that bills signed into law are not effective for 90 days, unless both bodies of the Legislature vote 2/3 to make it sooner. That’s 27 in the House and 14 in the Senate. The Senate voted for it, but the House fell four votes shy of the 27 needed. This is a problem because the new fiscal year begins until July 1, meaning even if Dunleavy signed the current version of the bill (which has not been transmitted to him yet) the effective date would not be until the end of September.
Members of the Legislature have cited several legal opinions dating back decades from former attorneys general that they say allows the governor to retroactively fund an appropriation bill before it becomes effective. In a press conference earlier today, members of House leadership said Dunleavy could take a short term loan to pay for government before the bill becomes effective. But ultimately the governor has the power to decide this, and Dunleavy is saying the bill is defective because of the issue with the effective date. His administration sent out layoff notices to state employees yesterday.
History shows that Dunleavy’s position is valid. In 1996, the operating budget (HB 412) passed the Legislature on May 7 after a conference committee met to iron out the differences between the House and Senate. The effective date clause passed the House, but failed the Senate. Then-Governor Tony Knowles signed it into law on June 28, making the effective date of the bill October 21. But there is more to the story. Another appropriations bill, SB 1005, was introduced on May 8 by request of the governor. This was the day after the budget passed the House and Senate that did not have an immediate effective date. That bill passed the Legislature, this time with both bodies passing the effective date clause. Knowles also signed that bill into law on June 28. That bill had specific language in it about the effective date of HB 412, the budget.
How does this get fixed? Because the special session ends at midnight, another special session will need to take place soon in order to avoid a government shutdown. Dunleavy says he will call them in on June 23. They could also call themselves into a special session before that, but that requires 40 legislators to agree. Also, once the special session ends at midnight, all the bills end with it – including the budget. It can be revived in another special session, but that requires a concurrent resolution to be passed by both bodies. Normally that would happen at the end of the session before the next special session, but because so many legislators are gone that is not going to happen today. Once a concurrent resolution is passed, the bill is back in play. The House would then need to muster the 27 votes for the effective date clause. They have one opportunity to rescind their action and vote again. Representative Sara Rasmussen (R – Anchorage) says she will vote for it, meaning the majority would need just three votes from the minority for it to pass (she was excused for Tuesday when the vote occurred). But several House members are excused next week, with some being out of town. For every member of the majority who is not here (they all voted for effective date clause), additional minority members are needed to vote for it. Which brings us to the root cause of this crisis.
The effective date clause passed the Senate, but not the House. Every House majority member voted for it. All but two House minority members voted against it, Representatives Steve Thompson (R – Fairbanks) and Bart LeBon (R – Fairbanks). Members of the House minority have made it clear they did not like the budget or the tactics used by the conference committee. But they have not made it clear what they want as a minority. Several of their members want very different things, many of which are in conflict with one another. Representative Cathy Tilton (R – Wasilla), the minority leader, cannot therefore go to the majority with a unified position on what they want in exchange for their vote. The minority has a faction problem. Yesterday I emailed all 16 members of the House minority, including Tilton, who voted no on the effective date clause this:
Why did you vote no on the effective date clause for the budget? Now that Governor Dunleavy has sent out layoff notices, and stated the government will shut down on July 1 unless this is resolved, will you vote for a July 1 effective date?
Only one responded, Representative David Eastman (R – Wasilla):
Voting for this budget under the current circumstances would have been an exercise in legislative malpractice.
The other 15 did not respond. I have asked several of them in the hallway about it. Representative Ron Gilham (R – Kenai) said he is still a no vote at this time. Representative James Kaufman (R – Anchorage) said they are working on it, but would provide no further detail. Representative Mike Cronk (R – Tok/Northway) said he wants a long term fiscal plan approved and Dunleavy’s proposed constitutional amendment on the Permanent Fund heard.
After the budget passed the House on Tuesday night, I asked Tilton if she was concerned about the effective date issue. She said she was, but felt it would be resolved once the minority is heard. She did not elaborate on specifics.
This morning on the Michael Dukes Show, Dunleavy called members of the Legislature “cowards” who are blaming him for this crisis. He also praised Republican legislators who voted no on the budget and the effective date because of how the “coercive” budget was constructed. Dunleavy essentially blamed the majority for not being able to convince enough members of the minority to vote for the effective date and the 3/4 vote for the reverse sweep and savings draw. So, it’s really hard to determine what is going on, and who wants what. One thing is clear, this issue will not be resolved anytime soon and few, if any, know what the hell is happening in Juneau.