Alaska lawmakers headed home, but session isn’t over yet
Many lawmakers are headed home after passing a budget late Thursday night to prevent a government shutdown next week. But the final gavel hasn’t fallen yet.
If lawmakers felt a sense of accomplishment after finally passing a budget, the satisfaction was short-lived. Less than two hours later, Gov. Bill Walker added a new issue to their plate: a bill to revamp the state’s oil tax system, House Bill 111.
The 30th Legislature is quickly approaching one of the longest stretches of consecutive sessions in state history. Even after passing a budget to keep state services running, both bodies walked away from the deal unhappy.
“It puts Alaska on an ugly path. In spite of all these negatives, passing it tonight prevents a government shutdown next week,” said Sen. Dennis Egan (D-Juneau) of the measure– which caps Permanent Fund dividends at $1,100 this fall and draws from the state’s Constitutional Budget Reserve savings account to pay for government.
Legislators may have avoided a shutdown, but they still have the pressure of another deadline. They must pass a capital budget by September 30 in order to move forward with state construction and maintenance projects, according to House Majority Leader Chris Tuck (D-Anchorage). Walker wants them to take up the state’s oil tax system first.
Tuck calls it a good strategy.
“We saw how the Senate really came to the table once we got close to a government shutdown. We’re hoping that in that same spirit, that they would come to the table, and rush to get this done because capital budget is going to be after that,” said Tuck in an interview Friday.
Senate leadership was unavailable for an interview Friday, but Senate Majority Leader Peter Micciche (R-Soldotna) noted Thursday that both the House and Senate have yet to achieve what they’d hoped to this year.
“The reality of it is this is not the final step. We have more work to do in the future, on a long-term plan on how we’re going to best use our earnings, sustainably, in perpetuity, to support our government,” Micciche said.
But getting there may take a while still.
“I think the public might be a little frustrated in seeing the money spent to get this done, however, they are complex issues, we may be coming in and out throughout the year and that’s how the state legislature used to operate years ago,” Tuck said, adding that the House Majority still aims to pass a multi-faceted fiscal plan this year.
Most lawmakers will spend a long weekend at home. The House and Senate have gaveled out until Tuesday. At this point, it’s unclear how many will be returning next week. The conference committee appointed to negotiate HB 111 is made up of six legislators.
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