With the budget close but not done, the crime bill at a crossroads and the dividend still somewhere in the ether, the Legislature is all but guaranteed to blow past the 121-day session that ends tonight at midnight and head into overtime.
The question is just how the inevitable overtime will play out.
The Legislature can extend session by 10 days with a two-thirds vote in each chamber (27 in the House and 14 in the Senate), it can call itself into a special session or it can let Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy to call a special session. Dunleavy has already threatened a special session if the Legislature doesn’t deliver a tough-on-crime bill.
A special session could be held outside of Juneau, but according to a report by the Anchorage Daily News Juneau is the cheapest location for a 30-day session at $1.08 million. The report also looked at a 30-day special session in Wasilla at $1.2 million or a 30-day special session in Anchorage at $1.48 million.
With the size of the remaining issues at hand—particularly the crime bill and the size of the PFD—there seems to be doubt that a 10-day extension would get the job done. The 10-day extension would also allow the Legislature to keep working on all legislation before it while a special session agenda could be limited.
That’s a bonus to Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, who told KTUU that the Senate majority “seems to tend toward a special session, where the subjects are tightly confined.”
Cooling it on crime
A special session would not only give legislators more time to address the issues, but it would also allow rising tempers and emotion to cool.
The House Majority handed down a rebuke of the Senate and governor on Tuesday for making sweeping changes to the crime bill after the House passed it with what they thought was the support of the governor. Though some last-minute changes blunted some of the most extreme changes, the Senate version of House Bill 49 was closely aligned with the tough-on-crime legislation proposed by the governor.
It also came back costing tens of millions of dollars more than what was passed by the House.
“Rubber stamping changes of this magnitude is irresponsible,” said Rep. Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage, on Tuesday, arguing that the House needs more time to understand the 23 additional pages and multiple altered sections in the bill. “What it does mean is we have a duty to our constituents to know what we’re voting on.”
The House rejected concurrence on the measure on a 22N-18Y vote, sending the legislation to a conference committee that realistically has almost no chance of being resolved before midnight.
The negotiators on the bill will be House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Matt Claman, Kopp and minority Rep. Lance Pruitt. The Senate will send over Sen. Shelley Hughes, Mike Shower and Bill Wielechowski.
The committee is set to meet today at noon.
Operating budget and the dividend
The operating budget conference committee finally closed out on much of the budget late on Tuesday night after many delays.
One of the biggest final items to be resolved was a $40 million cut to the Alaska Marine Highway System. The House had proposed a $10 million cut. The change, if enacted, would severely reduce service to many communities, but not by as much as the governor’s proposal, which would have seen service completely end later this year.
The conference committee also rejected a proposal to move economic development positions from the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development directly into the governor’s office.
What the conference committee doesn’t do is set an amount for the dividend, settle a proposed transfer of cash into the permanent fund’s corpus or make a proposed $70 million spend on oil tax credits.
The Senate had stripped out the oil tax credits based on advice from the administration that a separate plan to bond for those payments would be soon coming together.
The size of the dividend is a divisive issue, even within caucuses.
According to KTUU, Senate President “Giessel said the majority caucus has 11 votes for a dividend amount but not on a specific figure.”
The conference committee didn’t completely close out on the budget Tuesday night, which will create problems for the Legislature meeting its deadline. The Legislature’s uniform rules require the budget to sit for 24 hours before going to a vote. It’s a requirement that, like all other rules, can be waived.
Still, legislators will face a penalty if they don’t pass a fully funded budget by the end of the day. Under ethics rules approved last year, per diem payments to legislators will be cut off starting tomorrow.