Lawmakers to appear in Juneau and Wasilla for 2nd special session
On Monday, lawmakers are scheduled to begin their second special session in Juneau – hundreds of miles away from Wasilla where Gov. Mike Dunleavy asked them to meet in a June 13 proclamation.
Senate President Cathy Giessel and House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, announced their intent to hold floor sessions and some hearings in Juneau while also holding hearings in Anchorage.
Giessel has long said it’s a separation of powers issue, and it’s up to the Legislature to determine where it should meet.
Many House and Senate Republicans say that’s violating state statute, so they will be reporting to Wasilla Middle School, even if they don’t have quorum to officially gavel in.
In an editorial shared with statewide media outlets Sunday morning, House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, said he will be joined in Wasilla by his caucus colleagues and several senators.
"Rather than changing the law through the process laid out in our constitution, the Legislature has made an unfortunate habit of simply ignoring laws that don’t fit the agenda of the moment, and it’s sending the wrong message to Alaskans," Pruitt wrote.
Once lawmakers sort out their venue differences and address prospective veto overrides, there is still the original reason for the session: the Permanent Fund dividend.
On June 13, Gov. Dunleavy called lawmakers back with a single purpose — to provide a dividend as written under a decades-old statute.
That would be about $3,000 per eligible Alaskan or about $1.9 billion from the fund’s earnings, which pay for the annual fall checks.
In each of the last three years, starting with a partial veto from former Gov. Bill Walker in 2016, the dividend payout has fallen short of the statutory mandate.
As lawmakers continue to grapple with budgets and deficits, the debate over how much the state can afford to pay Alaskans gets more heated.
"The fundamental problem we’ve had in recent years is we don’t have enough money coming in. We don’t have enough revenue coming in to meet our expenditures,” said Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, who has taken his fight for a full PFD to the Alaska Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled the dividend is an appropriation subject to legislative or executive branch reduction.
“That’s where this has really taken on this ugly fight now, because you’ve got people saying well you’ve got to cut government to protect the dividend," he said. “You’ve got people saying let’s just cut the dividend instead of cutting services. You’ve got people saying, well let’s find other sources of revenue and we’re all clashing right now because we’re almost out of money.”
Giessel also distributed an op-ed to statewide media outlets over the weekend. She examined the place for a dividend during an era of chronically low oil prices, reduced revenue and flat oil production.
“The question before Alaskans is what role will the Permanent Fund dividend play?" Giessel wrote. "As oil revenue declines through the years, will dividends consume ever more resources biting into education, health, corrections and public safety?"
Those challenging a $3,000 have faced strong push back through social media, emails and phone calls.
“The Senate and the House have received bitter criticism because of our pause over the payment of a $3,000 dividend," Giessel wrote. "Emails I receive demanding a super-sized PFD aren’t fit to read aloud to hardened sailors."
The House Finance Committee has scheduled a hearing for 2 p.m. Monday on Dunleavy’s prospective dividend bill, but it’s unknown whether he will introduce the bill to lawmakers in Juneau.
The Senate Finance Committee has not scheduled any hearings yet.
Copyright 2019 KTVA. All rights reserved.
MORE NEWS FROM KTVA: