The mostly Democrat House Majority went out in inglorious style Thursday night when it forced through an all-or-nothing budget. In a move that’s been rumored for days, the majority stuffed the 89-page operating budget into the capital budget through a single amendment offered on the floor.
The majority gave no time for review, limited debate to two minutes per legislator and stamped out objections. Once the bill passed on a caucus line vote, the House adjourned sine die from the special session. It was a brazen disregard of tradition and legislative process that will likely have political reverberations for the already-shaky majority.
The Republican House Minority objected throughout the process. Some of its members made outlandish comparisons about the process, while others were near tears. Some of those didn’t even appear to be the crocodile tears shed earlier in the session at maneuvers its members pulled when in the majority.
“I’m mad as hell,” said Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, warning the move would damage future relationships in the House.
It was a stunning night for the Alaska House of Representatives, and for all the damage it’s done it won’t accomplish a thing.
The swift response
Just as speculation was beginning to percolate about the response from the Senate and the governor—perhaps they’d take the bait to avert a shutdown—they released statements trashing the actions of the House.
“We were surprised by the House Majority’s actions tonight. They did not get the job done for Alaska. A compromise is required to protect Alaskans and put the state on a stable fiscal path,” Gov. Bill Walker said in a short, frank statement.
Senate President Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, released a thorough take down of the House bill. He also pulled back the curtain on negotiations, accusing the House of walking away from the table last week.
“Alaskans should know tonight’s decision was unnecessary, and unprecedented. For weeks, the Senate urged the House Majority to negotiate a budget,” he said. “The House Majority walked away from negotiations last week – then canceled four public negotiation sessions this week, while leading the Senate to believe they remained interested in a compromise. As late as Thursday at 6 p.m., Senate leaders were still reaching out to the House Majority in hopes of reconciling the two bodies’ differences.”
Kelly has been the chief refuser to compromise throughout the session, but now when the state is barreling towards a government shutdown he’s emerged as an advocate for compromise.
“Tonight’s House floor action was a betrayal of many conversations between the two bodies in an attempt to compromise,” he said.
It should be noted, though, that the compromise on the table is definitely starting from a Senate-friendly position. The governor likely intended that, hoping to coax Kelly to the negotiating table. The House Majority started session intent on putting a fiscal plan in place, but instead got wrapped up in the politics of winning it all.
Now in the final hours of the special session the House Majority has nothing to show for its actions except for the unexpected, unprecedented alignment of Walker and Kelly.