Legislature ends special session early, governor calls another
Gov. Bill Walker has called a special session to begin July 11 at 11 a.m. in Juneau, this one with a narrowed focus on his permanent fund bill, a tax package which includes both a statewide sales and income tax, and oil tax legislation.
The Alaska State Legislature adjourned from a May special session Sunday, two days shy of the constitutional deadline, without a long-term budget fix. The House gaveled out late Saturday evening, and Sunday morning, the Senate followed suit.
“I spoke with the governor this morning and obviously the main bill that he wants is Senate Bill 128 which we’ve already passed,” said Senate President Kevin Meyer, referring to Walker’s bill to recalculate dividends and use part of the permanent fund for the state’s annual budget. The measure is the cornerstone of Walker’s long-term fiscal plan for the state, but died in a House committee Friday.
Before calling special session quits, the House passed House Bill 4002, a bill to provide continued healthcare benefits to families of peace officers killed in the line of duty, which proved of no avail when the Senate failed to do the same.
“There was just nothing else that we could do,” said House Speaker Mike Chenault. “We didn’t see sitting around three to four days trying to come to a different conclusion than what we have in the last 150 days, so, I think it’s time that we could get out of town, maybe go back, talk to our constituents and get a better feel of what they’re really thinking versus what we hear down here in Juneau.”
The budget passed by the Legislature last month relies on savings to fund the next year of state services. Alaska’s current cashflow problem, which stems from dependency on oil revenue, remains unaddressed.
“I really and strongly support a fiscal plan for the state of Alaska,” said Rep. David Guttenberg, who voted not to allow SB 128 out of the House Finance Committee for a vote on the House floor. “It’s actually not so much a fiscal crisis, but a political crisis of making the right decision. The problem I have with what we ended up, from the governor’s original concept that everybody’s at the table, everybody’s chipping in, all disintegrated except for the fact that only Alaskans are chipping in with their permanent fund check.”
Guttenberg, Chenault and Meyer agreed work this year isn’t over yet.
“It takes time to do these things, it takes time to get them right. Sometimes you think, ‘It’s just an answer. If you just listen to me and do what I said.’ It’s like, well maybe that isn’t the right thing,” Guttenberg said. “Maybe that’s why we have the committee process, that’s why we work through things because people have other answers that might be better.”
Meyer, who met with constituents over the past week, said he thinks there is public support for the governor’s permanent fund plan.
“I can’t think of a single constituent that came up to me that was upset that we did what we did,” Meyer said in reference to the Senate’s passage of the bill, adding that he doesn’t anticipate support for the measure to waiver within his body either. “I think people understand this needs to be done.”
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