Alaska Legislature gavels in for special session
Gov. Bill Walker submitted a new budget Tuesday that is similar to the one that passed the House and Senate on Monday afternoon, though it restores more than $16.5 million to education funding.
“We really need to fix this together, and again, it’s not a matter of who did what right and who did what wrong,” said Walker, who called lawmakers back for a special session that began Tuesday after they passed an unfunded budget Monday.
The governor hopes extra time will lead to an agreement on the budget and the 30 House votes necessary to use the Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR) to balance the budget.
“Not having a funded budget is a big deal, it’s a big concern,” Walker said. “The money is there, we need to come to sufficient agreement to access [the CBR] and get on with the future of this great state.”
The new budget is scheduled to be taken up by House and Senate Finance committees on Wednesday. In the proposed budget, Walker also restores some cuts to the Alaska Marine Highway System and the University of Alaska system and includes money to honor union contracts. Altogether, the budget now under consideration increases state spending by an additional $94 million, when compared with the budget passed by the House and Senate on Monday.
But whether lawmakers will be able to successfully negotiate a deal in a special session is yet to be seen. Speaker of the House Mike Chenault said tough decisions on the budget had to be made.
“Each of these decisions affects someone across the state and most of those were negatively because we were making reductions in the size of government and the services provided by the state of Alaska,” Chenault said following the adjournment on Monday.
Chenault says he tried to negotiate with the House Democrats, but they could not reach an agreement.
“They wanted too much for their three-quarter vote,” Chenault said.
Chenault says there’s enough money to keep the state running until fall, and then other sources of money will need to be considered. He says using the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve is not one of his options.
Minority Leader Chris Tuck says the Republican-led House majority has “been putting politics and winning ahead of the people and Alaska’s best interests.”
Also on the agenda for the special session is Medicaid expansion and reform, along with Erin’s Law, a bill to require schools to teach sexual abuse awareness to students K-12.