AKLEG Recap, Day 72: Operating budget in limbo while House gathers votes

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon during floor debates on the operating budget. (Photo by Alaska House Majority Coalition)

We finally got official word on what’s going on with the operating budget on the 72nd day of the Alaska Legislature (it’s more or less what everyone expected). A freshman senator saw his first bill pass and a long-time senator saw a long-time priority pass. Here’s what happened and what to look forward to.

Just 18 days remain.

House doesn’t have the votes

If it’s not obvious by now, the House Majority Coalition doesn’t have the votes to pass the operating budget. Wednesday’s floor session was limited to a technical session (the House had to call an at-ease when Rep. Dan Ortiz popped his head in because it would have triggered quorum and a full House session) as the chamber continues to reel from the vote to restore a full dividend.

Remember, a majority of the House Majority Coalition (12 against and 10 in favor) voted against the bigger dividend, but it ultimately passed because a majority of minority House Republicans (11 in favor and seven against) voted for the bigger dividend. Those minority Republicans are almost universally expected to vote against the operating budget because the House has also just got done rejecting nearly all their proposed cuts.

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, who voted in favor of the increased dividend, stood by his decision as standing up for the poor Alaskans in his district and said work continues on finding support to move the legislation forward.

“If I have to choose between the lowest tax rate for the oil industry or taking half the dividend to solve a fiscal gap that’s the largest in the country and I’m going to ask my constituents–many of them who are way below the poverty level–to give up half of their permanent fund dividend so we can grant economic advantages to other entities around the state, I’m going to defer to my constituents and support a larger dividend,” he said.

But Edgmon seemed to hedge the promise of a larger dividend perhaps in both a signal to his constituents as well as other members of his caucus that the House’s vote is not the final vote on the bill. Both the Senate, which has been insistent on a PFD-first approach to the fiscal crisis, and Gov. Bill Walker, who originally put the PFD on the table, still have a say in the process.

Edgmon didn’t give a clear timeline ahead. He said the votes are continually shifting around in the House and that he’s reached out to the minority Republicans to see if he can find support there.

Like end-of-session negotiations, expect things to move fast once they come together.

Senate backs off voter confidentiality

Sen. Anna MacKinnon’s Senate Bill 192 emerged from the Senate State Affairs Committee so altered that she regularly referred to it as “Sen. John Coghill’s bill” throughout Wednesday’s hearing on the legislation. The bill originally was pitched as a measure to allow victims of domestic violence and stalking to keep the address they use for register to vote off any publicly available voter rolls. MacKinnon’s pitch would have simply allowed anyone for any reason to check a box to keep their address private, but Coghill had concerns with that being too broad.

In the Senate State Affairs Committee, Coghill introduced an amendment that would have put in place a system similar to other states that require a threshold to keep your address private and then also helps take it off of other systems.

Coghill’s amendment also comes with potentially significant costs. Testimony from the state said they would have to still work out a fiscal note, but that the ultimate cost of the program could range from a few hundred thousand dollars to a few million.

MacKinnon seemed interested in just reverting the bill back to her version, which she said would have no fiscal impact, but saw the writing on the wall with Coghill’s amendment (which passed with broad support in State Affairs). Instead, MacKinnon seemed to suggest defeat on the bill, recognizing that it won’t make it to the governor’s desk this year.

Ultimately, MacKinnon told the state to hold off on spending any resources to even prepare a fiscal note on the bill and said would come back with a proposal for a working committee to tackle the issue in the interim.

Gun violence bill heard

The House Judiciary Committee heard some additional testimony from the Department of Law on House Bill 75, the bill to enact narrow measures to combat gun violence, during its Wednesday hearing, but action on the bill was cut short. At least one of the members of the committee was out sick so committee chair Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, cancelled the planned Wednesday-night hearing on the bill. The committee was expected to take up amendments on the bill (which ought to be interesting with both Reps. Lora Reinbold and David Eastman on the committee) during that hearing.

The bill could make an appearance under previously heard bills at the committee’s Friday meeting.

House Bill 399

Rep. Steve Thompson’s indirect expenditure reports are continuing to pay dividends. This time in the form of House Bill 399, which seeks to repeal a handful of corporate tax breaks and other obsolete credits. The bill got a hearing in the House Resources Committee on Tuesday and is expected to bring the about $6.9 million in additional revenue annually. It’s not a massive amount of new revenue, but also pretty much the only sort of new revenue (other than cuts to the PFD) on the table.

Board of Fish shuffle

Board of Fisheries member Alan Cain, who had planned to not seek reappointment to the position and leave this summer, has reapplied and be nominated for the board. Duncan Fields was Walker’s original pick to fill the soon-to-be empty seat. Fields withdrew his name from consideration amid mounting opposition from critics who said his appointment would unfairly shift the board away from an unwritten agreement balance of interests.

Jonesville

The Senate unanimously passed Sen. Mike Shower’s Senate Bill 65, creating the Jonesville Public Use Area near Sutton, during its Wednesday floor session, but not before having a little fun with the freshman legislator.

Otters

The Senate also passed a resolution by Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, urging the feds to take a stronger hand in managing booming sea otter populations that are decimating the shellfish populations. It’s long been a priority for Stedman, who’s made previous appearances in the Senate Resources Committee with sea otter pelts to pitch the change.

He even had a special tie for the event:

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