Wasilla special session cost projections hit record $1.3 million
A special session in Wasilla could cost the state $1.3 million – about $300,000 more than the most expensive session on record, according to an estimate prepared by the Legislative Affairs Agency.
It’s also about $43,600 per day for the 30-day session scheduled to begin July 8 for another round of debate over the size of this year’s Permanent Fund dividend.
The report also studied an option that would split a session between Juneau and the Anchorage Legislative Information Office. That would cost $853,999.
If the estimates hold, that would be almost a $500,000 difference.
Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, said concerns over the Mat-Su location extend beyond the price tag.
She adds lawmakers need a place equipped to ensure proper archiving of hearings and committee meetings, especially on a topic like the dividend.
She also says lawmakers should be choosing the place for any special session, adhering to separation of powers between the executive and legislative branch.
“Each are separate but equal and have jurisdiction over their own particular lanes,” she said. “So it’s really up to the Legislature to determine where it will meet, which best meets its needs.”
The governor's press secretary Matt Shuckerow questioned the recent estimates.
“The report that was issued, the estimates that were issued today, frankly they are very disingenuous,” he said. “They don’t compare apples to apples.”
Shuckerow also called the analysis hypothetical so that an alternative venue looks for more financially favorable.
Last week, Dunleavy’s team touted the upside of having a 30-day special session at Wasilla Middle School, including being on a road system accessible to more than two-thirds of Alaskans.
“The Mat-Su is centrally located,“ he said. “Within five hours of driving you have about 500,000plus people that can drive to the Mat-Su. This gives Alaskans an opportunity.”
But the legislative agency produced additional reports replete with concerns ranging from costs to logistics, from safety to available technology, and from privacy to “disregard for the Legislature’s rules and protocols.”
The agency identified concerns drafted in a six-page response last month when the administration first presented the idea to the Legislature – issues it believes the administration still has “not addressed.”
The respective finance committees would have to meet either at the Mat-Su Borough or the Anchorage legislative information offices to hold hearings. Additionally, “having chambers in a gymnasium would make it difficult for the sergeant-at-arms to maintain order in the gallery, hallway and floor and secure the multiple entrance points.”
The agency writes: “The legislature needs dedicated and secure network connectivity; school district would need to remove their network equipment to allow for the legislature’s network to take over.” It added there was no scenario where for the “school’s network equipment to remain in tact.
Security and safety
The agency cites “serious security camera concerns as to who has access to the footage.” The report raises questions over liability or property damage? The city? The school district? The executive branch? Additionally, gym bleachers touted as an asset to engage the public, “are a safety concern and could not work,” the report said.
Press secretary Matt Shuckerow said the legislature is spending more time looking for reasons not to go to Wasilla rather than finding ways to make it work.
“The legislature has been fairly clear,” he said. “They don’t want to go there. They have put up every red flag possible. This is unnecessary. They have made every excuse they can.”
Lawmakers have struggled to agree on the size of the PFD through 150 days, including 29 days of a 30-day special session that ended June 13.
Dunleavy immediately called them back.
House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt said Friday that the House waited too long to have a meaningful public debate on the floor June 12 and it’s forced a second special session.
“We could have avoided this,” he said. “The whole conversation about a special session and the cost-related special session all comes down to a failure to lead, a failure of the House majority to do their job. We asked them several months ago to start this conversation. Instead they waited untill day 149 to start one of the most important question we were going to have to answer.”
Giessel said lawmakers have not committed to a plan.
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