Alaska Approaches Government Shutdown As Special Legislative Session Ends Without Solution to ‘Flawed’ State Budget
The governor issued a proclamation convocation of lawmakers to another extraordinary session on Wednesday at 10 a.m. The objective is to vote a state budget before July 1.
If there is no state budget by this date, thousands of state employees will be made redundant and essential services will be shut down.
The current problem is one of timing.
Under the Alaska Constitution, bills come into force 90 days after promulgation, unless two-thirds of the House and two-thirds of the Senate approve an earlier date. The Senate agreed to launch the budget on July 1, but in the House, the Republican opposition threw down the “effective date clause”.
Twenty-seven members of the 40-person State House were expected to approve the clause, but only 23 voted in favor. A lawmaker was absent and 16 members of the House’s Republican minority voted against.
House Minority Leader Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, said members of the minority wanted to see more action on an overall state budget plan before they voted in favor of the clause and put end at closing.
Representative David Nelson, R-Anchorage, was one of the lawmakers who voted against the effective date clause and suggested on Friday that he could vote for it if he saw action on a constitutional amendment from the permanent fund dividend proposed by the governor and action on a cap on state spending, a proposal also supported by Dunleavy.
Other members of the minority offered different opinions. Representative Mike Prax, R-North Pole, said he wanted the dividend to be funded solely by the Permanent Fund, rather than a mix of accounts, as in a compromise budget released by a House committee on Sunday and of the Senate.
House Speaker Louise Stutes R-Kodiak said negotiations are continuing between the minority and the 21-member coalition that runs the House.
As those negotiations progressed this week, many lawmakers left Juneau for their home districts.
As of Friday afternoon, there were no more 27 members of the House in Juneau, although an agreement had been reached. In a brief floor session at 3 p.m., a handful of House lawmakers adjourned for the day without taking further action, ensuring the state will stay on track for a government shutdown.
Members of the House majority said they believed Dunleavy was deliberately making the problem worse in order to encourage acceptance of a larger dividend from the Permanent Fund.
“The craziest thing about it is that the governor is basically pitting a government shutdown against a bigger PFD and he’s working with some lawmakers in the building,” said Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham.
The Legislative Assembly’s compromise budget includes a dividend of $ 1,100, but many lawmakers support a payment of around $ 2,350, the amount that would be paid if a constitutional amendment drafted by Dunleavy passed.
An advocacy group led by the governor’s office sent an email ahead of this week’s failed vote, urging Alaskans to write to their lawmakers and tell them to vote against the budget.
The governor’s office later said the email was in error and did not reflect the governor’s opinion, but by that time lawmakers had received hundreds of emails and members of the majority of the House are skeptical that the message was sent by accident.
In a radio interview Friday morning, Dunleavy praised lawmakers who voted against the effective date clause and said some lawmakers wanted to “blame the governor because it’s a practical excuse ”.
“Their job is to convince a number … of legislators that the proposed bills have merit. They failed to do so. It’s on them. But they don’t want to take responsibility for it, ”Dunleavy said.
The majority of the House offered a handful of legal opinions that suggest there are ways around the effective date clause. Stutes said the governor also has the option of temporarily borrowing money to cover government costs if a budget is not ready by July 1.
But through a spokesperson, Dunleavy said he was simply following the constitution, the plain language of which includes the requirement for the effective date clause.
In 1996, when the Alaska Senate did not approve the clause, the government of the day. Tony Knowles has called lawmakers to a special session to resolve the issue and other outstanding issues.
The governor’s position did not satisfy the majority, which asked the governor to urge the minority to vote for the clause. So far, he has made only one general appeal to the Legislative Assembly as a whole.
“The governor has been clear: he has no intention of inserting himself into the legislative process,” said Corey Young, spokesperson for the governor.
“His hope remains that the legislature will correct the lack of a July 1 effective date that creates a constitutional breach of the budget bill that was passed,” Young said.
Tilton said the governor had not spoken to the minority about the issue and was not working with them to advance his ideas.
“I mean the governor is not at all to blame for this,” said Rep. Mike Cronk, R-Tok and one of the lawmakers who voted against the effective date clause. “I accept my vote, our caucus accepts its vote. It is a problem in the House right now.
Even if the House approves the effective date clause, several other clauses require a three-quarter vote. Thirty of the 40 members of the House and 15 of the 20 members of the Senate are expected to agree to these clauses, and so far neither branch of the legislature has done so.
Without these clauses, the budget remains partially unfunded and the dividend would drop from $ 1,100 to approximately $ 525. The state subsidy for rural electricity will end, leading to higher home electricity bills for about 85,000 Alaskans and thousands of high school students in Alaska will lose the state promised scholarships.