Tuesday evening, just hours before pink slips were scheduled to go out to thousands of state workers, Alaska lawmakers passed a budget. The House and Senate broke a long impasse by postponing action on controversial oil tax credit legislation and funding only the minimum required by law for that program.
How to pay for the $775 million in tax credits owed next year will have to be decided later. Lawmakers voted to fund the rest of the budget with savings. To find a compromise, a House-Senate budget conference committee voted late Monday night to restore some of the cuts previously proposed to health, education and public safety.
The six-member panel put $10 million back in the budget for university funding, and reversed a $13 million proposed cut to education. Lawmakers agreed not to make a controversial reduction to the senior benefit program or disability grants, adding in $6.13 million to continue those services. They also added $480,000 for Alaska State Troopers.
If Gov. Bill Walker approves the budget soon, lawmakers could adjourn without fear of a government shutdown in July, but House Speaker Mike Chenault said they’ll continue to work.
“Our plan is not to adjourn, our plan is to go ahead and continue taking up the governor’s bills that he has on the call and see if we can get to some kind of conclusion on them,” he said. “Whether they pass or fail, that remains to be seen.”
The staples of Gov. Walker’s long-term solution to the state’s financial woes include one bill to convert the permanent fund into an endowment to help pay for government and another to create an income tax. Neither House nor Senate leadership would commit to giving all of the governor’s revenue measures an up or down vote on the floor.
“There are times that a committee brings forward a bill and you don’t have the votes to get it out of committee,” said Sen. Anna MacKinnon, co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee. “I certainly will bring up the bills that make it to finance.”
Leaders in both bodies have said the governor will need to be more engaged in order to help push his plan through the process.
Gov. Walker will hold a press conference Wednesday morning at 11 a.m.