Negotiations over Alaska’s operating budget now rest in the hands of six lawmakers, three each from the state House and Senate.

House Finance Committee co-chairs Reps. Neal Foster, D-Nome, and Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, and committee member Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, represent the House.

Senate Finance co-chairs Sens. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka and Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage, plus committee member Sen. Donny Olson, D-Bethel, represent the Senate.

The committee will hold its first meeting on Tuesday afternoon, but it’s listed as just an organizational hearing.

The most significant difference between the two chambers' budget proposals lies with the Permanent Fund dividend.

The House did not include a dividend in its budget, saying it would wait for further discussions with the Senate. The Senate proposed a $3,000 dividend, but it would take another $1.2 billion from either a savings account or the fund’s earnings reserve, which has close to $18 billion.

“The fundamental question is, how do we pay for this and not completely consume the earnings and then eventually erode the Permanent Fund itself by handing out money?” said Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in a brief news conference he wouldn’t comment on the status of the budget and the PFD debate until after a bill reaches his desk.

Another major difference is the Senate’s proposal to send $12 billion from the Permanent Fund’s earnings, which pay the dividend, to the fund’s principal.

The House offered no transfer plan with its budget, but on Monday the House Finance Committee approved House Bill 31, a plan from Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, to move $8 billion from fund earnings to its principal.

“This legislation protects an additional $8 billion for future generations of Alaskans, while maintaining a reasonable cash balance in the earnings reserve account for PFDs and public services,” Kreiss-Tomkins said in a prepared statement.

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