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Fireworks in the legislature as second special session called

By Rhonda McBride Photojournalist: Cael Green - 10:28 AM June 17, 2017

The end of the legislative session in Juneau turned into a political roller coaster, and the wild ride probably is far from over. After the Senate gaveled out on Friday, the governor called a second special session.

The fireworks started in the House on Thursday night, one day before the end of the first special session.

The majority surprised the minority by rolling the operating budget into the capital budget.

It included full funding for public schools and a Permanent Fund Dividend check of more than $2,000.

The debate that followed turned into a drama the legislature hasn’t seen in many years.

The minority accused the majority of tyranny when they were limited to two minutes to speak on the latest House budget.

Rep. Lance Pruitt compared House Speaker Bryce Edgmon with Vladimir Putin – while Rep. Dan Saddler called June 15, 2017, a day that will live in infamy — and then slammed the budget down on his desk.

Not long afterward, the House passed it and quickly gaveled out. The majority coalition said the minority was grandstanding, while they were focused on trying to avert a state government shutdown that would occur on July 1. But the opposition said House leaders knew all along their new version of the budget would never pass the Senate.

And they were right.

On Friday, the Senate adjourned without a compromise, effectively bringing the first special session to a close.

Gov. Bill Walker immediately called lawmakers back into session but restricted the agenda to one thing only: passing a budget. No taxes were included.

Walker said he’s been frustrated, too, because all nine of his revenue proposals have been shot down.

“That doesn’t mean I stop. There is no other answer. We’ve got to compromise. We’ve got to have additional revenues,” Walker said.

Walker said he would consider adding tax proposals to the special session agenda if progress is made on the budget.

Sen. Lyman Hoffman, co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, called on lawmakers to rise above the pettiness. Hoffman is a Democrat who joined the Republican Majority and says he’s tried to negotiate a compromise.

“Constitutionally, we have to pass an operating budget and the alternative of a government shutdown is absolutely unacceptable,” Hoffman said. “If we continue to negotiate with those principles in mind, I think we come back to the table and get the job done.”

But Democrats fear, if they agree to a budget without a long-term fix, Republicans will never agree to new revenues.

“I think it’s important that the Senate send a clear message to the House that they’ll accept revenues, so they can move forward,” said Sen. Tom Begich, an Anchorage Democrat. “For me, it’s hard to imagine where we go, if it’s always a short-term, one-year fix. The future of the state relies upon a plan.”

Lawmakers return to the drawing board on Monday, while the governor says the state must prepare for a government shutdown in case the legislature remains in gridlock.

“I feel bad every time I send a pink slip. I hear from those folks, rightfully,” said the governor. “It’s not a good feeling to receive that in the mail and wonder if it’s real, is it not?”

But the reality, for now, is, that Alaskans are on the edge of a fiscal cliff, still waiting for the legislature to pull them back to safety.

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