Tuesday marked the start of the House’s amendment process on the state’s operating budget, but only a fraction of the day was spent debating actual cuts to the budget.
Of the 16 amendments by minority Republicans that reached a vote only four would have made cuts, the remainder would have altered the budget’s intent language that essentially sought to micromanage Republican Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s administration of the budget. The House approved two minority amendments during the all-day session that wrapped up around 5:30 p.m., one cut and one change to intent language.
What was approved
Of the four proposed cuts, only one was approved to reduce the travel budget of the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education by $38,200. The amendment by Rep. Sara Rasmussen was approved on unanimous consent early in the day but had to be withdrawn and reapproved later when a typo was discovered in the amendment.
All told, minority Republicans offered $634,300 in cuts with other amendments targeted at the funding for the DMV and Alaska Legal Services, and closed the Department of Natural Resources’ remaining Recorder’s Offices outside of Anchorage.
The only approved intent language was offered by Rep. Lance Pruitt and would instruct the Department of Health and Social Services to consider the feasibility of consolidating its public health labs. The amendment doesn’t direct the administration to consider a specific location for the consolidated lab.
What wasn’t approved
Of the 16 amendments that reached a vote on Tuesday, 12 were intent language. Of those 12 intent language amendments, 11 were offered by Rep. David Eastman, the Wasilla Republican who’s been censured, removed from the House Ethics Committee for an ethics violation and cast so many lone no votes to prompt the coining of the term “NEastman” in legislative circles.
The topics included telling the courts to do something they’re already doing, saying it’s not the Legislature’s intention for state funds to be used to promote the creation of local governments without a vote and another that could prevent federal Head Start funding from being used to teach young children about identifying sexual assault (though he said he was worried about teaching preschoolers about sex ed).
Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, frequently took Eastman to task on his amendments, such as the last one mentioned above.
“Unfortunately it’s the parent that’s causing the problem,” Wilson said. “Yes, I would like the parent to be the do it, but when the parent is the one committing this type of crime who is the child supposed to go to?”
But her frustration—along with the frustration of the rest of the House—seemed to build throughout the day as a majority of the time was spent working through Eastman’s amendments, all of which were cut-less intent language.
When the House reached an amendment by Eastman that would ask the departments to look for cuts that would bring the state’s budget down to just twice the national average of state spending, Wilson’s response started with “All I can say is, ‘Seriously?’”
“We usually write intent language here because we don’t believe in the administration, so we want to make sure that whoever the administration is follows the intent of the Legislature,” she says. “This one asks for us to tell the departments where they can identify more cuts when already we have an administration that has put forward some of the most drastic cuts we’ve ever seen of $1.6 billion. I’m just confused, I’m confused on why here we would be telling them to find even more things when we can’t figure even figure out where it’s going at this point.”
Wilson asked why Eastman felt such a need to micromanage an administration he’s presumably aligned with.
“I’ve never seen this much intent language … normally it happens because somehow we think that the administration isn’t going our way,” she said. “Do we not believe in the administration and where they’re going, so we think here that we need to direct them in such a minute way?”
Eastman said he was concerned that if the Legislature doesn’t approve this year’s cuts that the administration would be discouraged in pursuing future cuts. The statement came after the governor threatened at a new conference to line item veto the budget deeply if the Legislature didn’t approve his constitutional amendments and crime bills.
In addition to Eastman’s 11 amendments that failed, three more were ruled out of order by Speaker Bryce Edgmon for being an intentional waste of time (with minority Republican Reps. Laddie Shaw and Sarah Vance agreeing with his assessment) and a fourth that suggested teacher and legislator pay should be equaled (teachers on average get paid better than legislators) was withdrawn by Eastman.
The House is set to resume work at 10 a.m. today, which is also the deadline for legislators to submit any additional amendments.
The Senate is set to take up work on the operating budget later this week.