Dunleavy: Next special session could be at Wasilla Middle School
Should the Legislature need a second special session to agree on the size of the Permanent Fund Dividend, Gov. Mike Dunleavy has just the place for them to meet — and it’s not in Juneau.
Dunleavy believes the Wasilla Middle School is a venue that "offers plenty of space for floor sessions, committee meetings, office space for individual legislators, and secure spaces,” according to a proposal drafted by his administration.
Lawmakers have until June 14 to close out several budgets and agree on the PFD size, the latter of which is holding them back.
Dunleavy wants a $3,000 payout, which represents a statutory formula not used the last three years, but some lawmakers say that kind of payment reflects an unsustainable draw from the Permanent Fund’s earnings account, the source of the annual payments.
Prior to the beginning of the current special session, Dunleavy had said he considered the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, but chose to keep lawmakers in Juneau. Putting the session on the state’s road system, makes the session more accessible to the public, said Dunleavy spokesman Matt Shuckerow.
“Unfortunately, what we’ve seen in Juneau for some time is that we’ve seen a stalemate, we’ve seen kind of an inability to move this conversation forward,” he said. “So if this legislature doesn’t conclude its work and requires a second special session, the governor’s desire is to change the venue, change the focus and let people know that we’re serious about getting the job done.”
The Legislative Affairs Agency issued a report on the prospects of holding the session in the Wasilla Middle School.
It cited a legal opinion from legislative attorney Megan Wallace, noting, “that the legislature never contemplated that the governor would select the location and the venue in the proclamation for the special session called by the governor.”
The Legislature’s report also raised several logistics issues including security, floor sessions, office space, accessibility and information technology. Questions in the report range from whether the governor should be allowed access to security cameras over a legislative space to if the size of the chairs in the school are big enough for adults.
Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, noted that most special sessions are traditionally in Juneau.
“There is a reason for that,” she said. “This is where the legislative infrastructure is. Now, some people may think what difference does that make? Well it makes a huge amount of difference and perhaps the most important difference it makes is the recording of what actually happens, the historic record of the Legislature’s decisions and deliberations.”
House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt said the PFD issue could have been address earlier in the session, especially during the budget debates.
“I think the moving to Wasilla or whatever we do there is a symptom the failure to have the difficult conversations when you should be having them, which is earlier not at the very end," he said.
Even if Dunleavy calls for the special session to be in Wasilla, lawmakers can start there, but lawmakers can hold a session elsewhere.
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