Special session ends without drama or PFD resolution
This year's second special legislative session ended on Tuesday, slightly different from its July 8 start — quietly with no high-profile conflict over where to meet.
But there is still plenty of unfinished business.
Lawmakers basically completed all the work possible last week and let the clock expire on the 30-day session, knowing they are likely to come back. Soon, Gov. Mike Dunleavy will have two bills in his hands.
Both will be closely watched, but it’s House Bill 2001 that has strong implications for the Permanent Fund dividend’s deep divide that’s been exposed this year.
But under HB 2001, which also restores more than $300 million of his vetoes, the Legislature approved a $1,600 payout.
It leaves Dunleavy with two choices as he approaches a deadline for Alaskans to receive an October check: accept the $1,600 and call lawmakers back to approve the remaining $1,400 or veto the entire sum and continue pursuing a full PFD in a single payout.
Leading lawmakers have offered Dunleavy the option for a $1,600 dividend now and a $1,400 payout later as long as it’s connected to a new statute that determines future calculations. Still, Dunleavy said he would need more detail about the bill before agreeing to that arrangement.
The Department of Revenue, which oversees the PFD checks, has said it would like to receive notice of how large the dividend will be prior to Aug. 31.
HB 2001 has not made its way to Dunleavy yet, but Dunleavy already has one bill on his desk — and he has until Aug. 17 to act on it.
It’s Senate Bill 2002, a capital budget that also includes several dozen accounts originally transferred to the Constitutional Budget Reserve, a savings fund that requires a three-quarter vote from which to draw.
Those accounts include revenue generating accounts like the Alaska Higher Education Investment Fund and the Power Cost Equalization Endowment Fund, covering college scholarships and rural energy assistance.
Last week, lawmakers agreed to what’s known as a reverse sweep of those accounts. The House cast the final vote with 31 supporting the reverse sweep; it needed 30 under the constitution.
Dunleavy said he would not veto that reverse sweep, adding his original budget funded the college scholarships and energy assistance — just not from those accounts.
Dunleavy has a pair of bills that would repeal those funds, plus a few others. Under SB 110 and HB 130, these designated funds would be transferred to the general fund.
In a transmittal letter, Dunleavy wrote:
“The proliferation of designated funds over the years causes complexities in budgeting, and failure to apply a fresh look at state spending. Removing these funds will contribute to a more transparent annual budget analysis.”
Those bills have yet to receive a hearing, but they remain alive for next year’s regular session, which begins in January.
As for another special session, lawmakers expect to be back to work for further debate on the PFD. It’s a matter of when and who calls the session.
Last week, Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, and House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, sent a letter to Dunleavy seeking another session focusing on the PFD and its formula.
“There is also broad recognition that given the complexity involved that attempting to find a solution during a regular legislative session is difficult if not virtually impractical. We are proposing that a special session take place before the end of the 2019 calendar year to consider the issue," the letter reads
In the letter, Giessel and Edgmon say they wish to work with the Dunleavy administration on the timing and location of the next special session, as well as "the need to ensure the broadest possible debate be facilitated relative to the critical nature of the issue under discussion.”
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