The first week of extra time in the Alaska Legislature largely focused on getting the many dozens of non-budget bills through the legislative process. Because I’m on my last day of vacation, here’s some things that happened and some things to look forward to.
Just 24 days left in this 121-day session.
Senate Bill 26 stirs to life
The conference committee on Senate Bill 26 met for a few minutes on Saturday for an unexpected meeting that will give new life to the stalled-out legislation. The bill is Gov. Bill Walker’s proposal to restructure the Alaska Permanent Fund to pay for government (and officially reduce dividends) and has been sitting in the conference committee for nearly a year.
It’s sat there not necessarily because the House and Senate can’t come to an agreement on the shape, size and other policies controlling the permanent fund draw, but because the two disagree on the rest of the fiscal plan. The House has pushed for some sort of broad-based tax to be implemented alongside the permanent fund restructure, while the Senate has been adamant that the permanent fund-only approach (when mixed with cuts) is enough.
The Saturday meeting didn’t settle that debate, but instead was called so each negotiating side could request greater powers to rewrite the bill from each chamber.
The request, which asks for limited free powers to rewrite the bill, would allow the committee to target portions of the bill relating to the size of the draw, the split between dividends and government and language that would repeal the current formula for PFDs as part of a rewrite. The powers go beyond the normal conference committee powers, which just allow the committee to pick between the differences in the legislation passed by the House and Senate. Limited free powers will allow the conference committee to rewrite, amend or even delete the targeted sections.
The committee didn’t discuss what the changes would be. The Senate’s version of the education funding bill HB 278, which passed both chambers last week, would also forward fund K-12 education for the fiscal year that starts in July 2019 with an additional one-time $30 million boost to schools.
The requests will need a majority in each chamber (21 in the House and 11 in the Senate).
Timing of any work on Senate Bill 26 will also be critical
Initiatives to appear on general
The Government Accountability Act initiative and the Stand for Salmon initiative will both appear on this year’s general election ballot because the Legislature is still in session today. Initiatives are scheduled for whatever ballot is at least 120 days after the Legislature adjourns from regular session.
There’s also been talk about referendums this year, with groups threatening a referendum that would repeal any action on the permanent fund dividend, so that will be something to watch with Senate Bill 26. Referendums are held on the first election 180 days after the adjournment of the regular session, which would put it at Thursday, May 10.
What we’re reading
- Updated: Alaska Native delegates descended on Juneau last week to call for action on HCR19, which would urge Gov. Bill Walker to declare a linguistic emergency for Alaska Native languages. Some senators had apparently not been on board with the legislation, and much of the advocacy is because the Senate changed the resolution to no longer call language loss an “emergency.” The resolution is now headed for the floor. Read: Alaska Native delegates march on Capitol after senators refuse to call language loss ‘emergency’ via Juneau Empire.
- There’s a big legal dispute over the governor’s plan to borrow money to pay off the state’s tax credit bill. Read: Legal opinions diverge on constitutionality of tax credit bonding bill by the Alaska Journal of Commerce.