AKLEG Recap, Day 17: Supplemental budget hits $178 million

Something might be going on in there.The Alaska State Capitol building as photographed in 2010. (Photo by Kimberly Vardeman/Creative Commons)

The 17th day of the Alaska Legislature continued to focus on the fallout of a handful of legislators’ bad to unacceptable behavior, while discussions continued on supplemental budget sticker shock and the state’s spending on Medicaid.

Just 73 days (and 57 days left to file for your PFD) to go.

Supplemental budget price: $178 million

Gov. Bill Walker’s administration delivered the price tag for the supplemental budget on Wednesday to cover what Legislative Finance Division Director David Teal has pointed out is largely a matter of the Legislature intentionally underfunding parts of the budget. The cost is $178 million with about $92 million coming from Medicaid (about a third of it due to the Legislature underfunding the program and the rest due to higher-than-expected enrollment during the FY18 fiscal year).

While some in the Senate have responded by suggesting the Legislature might not fund the supplemental or that Medicaid needs drastic reforms, the House seems more open to Teal’s message.

At the House Minority Republican press conference on Thursday, Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, said it’s time for the Legislature to get honest about its budgeting, adding that the Medicaid spending in the supplemental budget is due, in part, to the Legislature’s actions last year.

“We all know that the increases in Medicaid are partially the result of a down economy. As more people lose their jobs, more people are going to move onto medicaid,” he said. “I will take ownership–and I think the legislature should–that we underfunded it to a point. I don’t know that we underfunded it at the capacity it’s showing now, and that’s the other piece–the larger-than-we-expected number of people out of work–and that does highlight it is time to make sure we’re managing both on our budgetary process and that we’re focusing on bills that ensure we’re putting people back to work.”

In the Senate Finance Committee meeting on Wednesday, amid a discussion about work requirements for Medicaid, Sen. Click Bishop, a former commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, told the committee that if they want to get people back to work, they better be ready to restore the massive cuts the Legislature has handed down to its job training programs.

Patriot Day bill advances

Sen. Kevin Meyer’s bill to officially name Sept. 11 “Patriot Day” advanced from the Senate State Affairs Committee after one of the shortest bill hearings this session. The bill addresses a Republican-fielded complaint that Gov. Bill Walker cut the Patriot out of Patriot Day by issuing a a September 11 Commemoration Day (just as Republican Govs. Sean Parnell and Sarah Palin did before him).

No-show pay

Rep. Zach Fansler hasn’t shown up to the Legislature this week, but according to the Associated Press he’s still getting a paycheck and per diem. The Legislative Affairs Agency automatically pays per diem and legislative pay during session, only cutting it off if a legislator specifically asks for it to be stopped. Per diem is paid in advance, and Fansler has been paid through Feb. 11.

Fansler reportedly hasn’t had any contact with House leadership since House Speaker Bryce Edgmon called for his resignation over the weekend.

Removal

If the House decides to remove Rep. Zach Fansler from office through a special resolution for allegedly assaulting a woman, it won’t be the first state to do so. According to the Associated Press, Arizona has the distinction of being the first state legislature to expel a member since the #MeToo movement emerged last year.

The Arizona House voted on Thursday to expel Rep. Don Shooter, who was accused of sexually harassing a fellow female legislator as part of a long record of similar behavior toward women. The House had been considering censuring Shooter, but decided to expel him after he wrote a letter that “represents a clear act of retaliation and intimidation.”

Retaliation

Speaking of acts of retaliation, Sen. David Wilson told the Anchorage Daily News that he had no regrets about how he conducted his December news conference where he cleared himself of wrongdoing with a legislative aide and called for the resignation of her boss.

“I stand by my press conference and I would not change anything about my press conference,” he told the ADN. “People just assume that I’m going to say, ‘I’m an elected official and I took this role to be abused in this manner.’ That’s not true. This affects more than myself and my job as an elected official.”

Explains why his “letter of responsibility” to the legislative aide included vague suggestions that incident was her fault (though she never formally made any allegations against Wilson).

Taken together, it’s prompted Sen. Berta Gardner to call for additional penalties for Wilson, but Senate Majority says it’s not considering additional sanctions.

Smoke-free workplace bill delayed, again

A Thursday meeting of the House Rules Committee on Senate Bill 63, the smoke-free workplaces bill, has been bumped to February 5. The meeting was originally scheduled for Monday evening, but was postponed due to a closed-door meeting about Fansler and rescheduled to Thursday without a time. Maybe one day.

What we’re reading

  • The Alaska Journal of Commerce really doesn’t think very highly of Juneau Rep. Justin Parish, particularly when it comes to his knowledge on oil taxes. Read: AJOC EDITORIAL: Parish flunks out on oil taxes via the Alaska Journal of Commerce.
  • Senate President Pete Kelly told the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce, “I always tell people, don’t judge us by what we do, judge us by the bad things we stop” during a luncheon on Tuesday. (Completely unrelated note: Kelly was the co-chair of Senate Finance Committee when the Senate refused to take up a survivor benefits bill for troopers and other first responders killed in the line of duty.) Read: Senate President, Fairbanks Republican Sen. Pete Kelly: State economy is recovering via Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

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