Lawmakers send budget to government for second time ahead of closing deadline


House Speaker Louise Stutes R-Kodiak signs deal with Minority Leader Cathy Tilton R-Wasilla on Monday, June 28, 2021 as part of a deal to pass a budget and avoid a shutdown government on July 1. The agreement says lawmakers should form a task force to draft recommendations to resolve the state’s budget deficit at another special session in August. (Peter Segall / Empire of Juneau)

The Alaska House of Representatives on Monday passed an essential part of the state budget bill to prevent a possible state government shutdown on July 1. As part of the budget deal, lawmakers also agreed to create a task force to address the state’s long term. financial situation, which will provide recommendations for another extraordinary session which will begin on August 2.

“The people of Alaska no longer have to worry about the disruption that a closure would cause in the height of summer and when we are finally back to normal life,” said the Speaker of the House, Louise Stutes, in a press release.

In a statement Monday afternoon, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said he would review the budget.

“Once I receive the budget and review the individual items, I will make a decision on possible item vetoes and prepare the budget for implementation on July 1,” Dunleavy said. “This action will prevent a government shutdown. ”

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While the state’s operating budget will come into effect on July 1, much of the state budget remains unfunded, as the effective date clause was just one of the missing pieces. of the state budget. A sweep of some state accounts in the constitutional budget reserve at the end of each fiscal year has yet to be canceled, but that vote will have to wait until at least August to be resolved.

A reverse vote takes a three-quarter vote in both bodies, and no caucus in the Legislature has so many votes. But negotiations to try to reach that threshold will only take place before the next special session, and until lawmakers vote for a reverse sweep, state programs, including the performance grant. of Alaska and the equalization of electricity costs, will not be funded.

Monday afternoon’s deal saw several breaks and closed-door negotiations.

House of Representatives Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, and Minority Leader Representative Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, said on Friday that a deal whereby members of the minority would vote for the date clause entry into force was at hand, but declined to give details. On Monday, it was announced that the deal will take the form of a House vote, a non-binding statement made collectively by lawmakers, saying members of minorities will be given equal status in negotiations for the next session. extraordinary in August.

The House voted 31-7 for a sense of the House and a covering letter outlining the intentions of the August special session, but not after several members of the minority raised objections to the letter and the process of Monday. Members of the minority told the hearing that they entered Monday’s session with the understanding that the meaning of the House vote must be taken before the vote on the effective date, and that the statements and tactics by members of the House Majority Coalition, including Stutes, had undermined confidence in the process.

“I was fully prepared to vote for the effective date,” Representative Tom McKay, R-Anchorage, said on the floor Monday. “We negotiated in good faith to get the sense of the House to vote first. If the other side wants to play tricks, I vote no on the budget.

Stutes said there was a communication problem between her and Tilton after the meetings that morning.

“Unbeknownst to me, Cathy didn’t think the negotiations were over, and I’m grateful to her for that because we are able to iron out the barriers,” Stutes said.

After the vote on the meaning of the House, House members voted 28-10 in favor of the effective date clause, with some members of the minority caucus joining the majority. members of the Republican minority Reps. Bart LeBon, Fairbanks; Steve Thompson, Fairbanks; Laddie Shaw, Anchorage; James Kaufman, Anchor; Ken McCarty, Eagle River; McKay and Tilton voted in favor. Representative Sara Rasmussen, R-Anchorage, who is not a member of any caucus, also voted in favor of the clause.

Working group in progress

Sense has declared its intention to create a bicameral task force to develop policy recommendations to resolve the state’s long-term fiscal situation. The governor has set an extraordinary session for August 1 and introduced three constitutional amendments that he says will put the state on a better fiscal track. According to the text of the meaning, the working group will include equal representation of the members of the four caucuses, with the structure and composition of the group being determined by the respective chairmen and leaders of the minorities.

“Once formed, the working group will be responsible for establishing a timetable and a structure for the development of policy recommendations to be presented to the legislature no later than the first day of the next extraordinary session,” said Sens.

Under the agreement, at least two of the working group’s meetings will be public and take into account public comments.

Some in the minority said they voted against the meaning because it was not binding and their trust with the majority had been shattered. The letter attached to the meaning said the majority coalition would address the concerns of the minority, but also said it could not guarantee the results, which was also criticized by members of the minority.

“We are committed to implementing a tax solution and a PFD solution; however, the budgetary policies pursued at the next extraordinary session should be those recommended by the working group. The House should not approve particular policies before the task force’s recommendations, ”the letter said.

After the floor session, Stutes was unable to say which lawmakers would be appointed to the task force. In a statement, Senate Speaker Peter Micciche R-Soldotna thanked House members for missing the effective date.

“Make no mistake, we still have a lot of work to do this year,” said Micciche. “The teamwork that began this week with the four caucuses must continue so that we can pass an acceptable PFD and a three-quarter vote for the work still to be done in this budget cycle. ”

Minority Leader Senator Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, also released a statement thanking the House for avoiding a shutdown. Neither Begich nor Micciche’s letters mentioned the task force, but both underscored the important work still to be done on a tax resolution.

Legal action in progress

Lawmakers were brought back to Juneau by Dunleavy, who said the budget sent to him earlier this month was “flawed” because it lacked an effective date. This sparked a legal dispute between lawmakers and the governor, and an Anchorage superior court said it would issue a preliminary ruling no later than noon on June 30.

Attorney General Treg Taylor said in a statement he would continue the trial and seek a court ruling on the effective dates of the legislation.

Following the budget vote and agreement on the August special session, MEPs adjourned the second summer special session. Senators met briefly, but only to adjourn “sine die” for the current session.

Dunleavy called a special session for August 2, but because that session would be limited to what the governor put on the call, some lawmakers pitched the idea of ​​calling a special session. The agreements reached on Monday made no mention of a start date for the task force.

Contact reporter Peter Segall at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

Members of the House Republican Minority Caucus chat among themselves during a comfortable session on the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives on Monday, June 28, 2021. Members of the House reached a meeting agreed on an operating budget and avoided a government shutdown, but members of the minority said they were repeatedly excluded from the process.  (Peter Segall / Empire of Juneau)

Members of the House Republican Minority Caucus chat among themselves during a comfortable sitting on the floor of the Alaska House of Representatives on Monday, June 28, 2021. Members of the House reached a meeting agreed on an operating budget and avoided a government shutdown, but members of the minority said they had been repeatedly excluded from the process. (Peter Segall / Empire of Juneau)

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