Friday in the Sun (May 31): The ‘The Endless Special Session’ edition

Friday in the Sun is here

Welcome to the latest edition of Friday in the Sun, a weekly collection of rumor and gossip that people tell us and we don’t always check. As always, keep all of that in mind and use your brain!

See y’all Monday and, as always, you can find your deal ol’ editor via email at matt@midnightsunak.com.

The Endless Special Session

Another week without a heckuva lot of progress in the Legislature.

Folks were back in Juneau on Tuesday to prepare a lawsuit if Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy follows through on threats to withhold K-12 money out of concern that it might maybe get struck down by a hypothetical lawsuit. More on this below, but we were all treated to the extremely unusual scene of House Speaker Bryce Edgmon and Senate President Cathy Giessel holding a joint news conference against the governor.

2019, man.

The Senate also stuck around long enough to approve the compromise on House Bill 49, sending it to the governor’s desk for a signature. The very expensive “War on Criminals” will soon be underway and Alaska will be returned to the serene pre-Senate Bill 91 days of idyllic safety where no one ever has to lock anything up.

Never lock your doors again!

There’s no further word about adding drug treatment to the capital budget, which had been floated last week in the House Finance Committee. There’s recognition by some that crime’s driven by more than law—like rampant drug addiction—but it’s not entirely clear there’s broad support for this notion.

The Senate won’t be back in regular session until Monday and the House is due back in a regular session on Wednesday. In the meantime, both have been holding technical sessions, which don’t have enough members to have quorum to do business.

It’s pretty widely understood now that the House has the votes to pass a budget with a dividend somewhere in the $1,600 range. They entertained a full $3,000 PFD as a tool to get at a revised formula in future years through House Bill 1005, but that seems to be off the table for now.

The problem ultimately rests with the Senate and more specifically the Senate Majority.

As we understand it, the 14-member Senate Majority is split dead even 7-7 on what to do with the dividend. One side is with the House on a $1,600 dividend and the other is still holding a flame for that dear $3,000 payout.

The talk has been to split the two, and thanks to an eagle-eyed legislative aficionado Will Muldoon there’s precisely such a meeting on the agenda for Monday.

The Senate Rules Committee’s noon Monday meeting covers “Senate bill regarding: ‘Making special appropriations for payment of permanent fund dividends.’”

No word on how it will take shape, but there’s a lot of interest from legislators in getting the budget resolved sooner than later even if it means having to punt on the dividend.

First, there’s the whole looming state shutdown thing, which appears have become odd-year tradition in Alaska. This will mark the third time since 2015 that the Legislature has got within a month of a shutdown and that workers will have to worry about a potential shutdown.

Dunleavy’s either attempting to spare employees of the anxiety or downplay the whole thing because he’s opting to send out layoff notices at the bare minimum of 10 days ahead of time. Former Gov. Bill Walker went with 30 days in 2015 and 2017.

In his midday Facebook town hall, Dunleavy suggested that his predecessor had been playing politics.

“We’re not making a lot of noise about this for political purposes, we’re just informing people and informing groups that we’re in the process of planning for a very, very, very remote possibility of no budget come July 1,” he said.

Neat.

Of course, many would argue that the possibility of a shutdown is a fair bit higher this year.

Here’s what Dunleavy during the town hall when asked if he would veto the budget if it didn’t include a full permanent fund dividend: “We are adamant that the laws be followed pertaining to the permanent fund, and we’ll keep insisting upon that.”

Sooooo…. maybe?

Oh, right, we were talking about reasons why the Legislature might be keen on splitting the budget from the PFD.

The other reason emerged this afternoon, when everyone caught wind that the state just so happened to be running out of money for Medicaid and thus would be cutting off ALL payments to ALL Medicaid providers for the final three weeks of June.

Mechanically this is due to the lack of supplemental funding from the Legislature, but from what we’ve heard it caught everyone in the Legislature by surprise. Of course, the Legislature in all its wisdom has sent off a budget every year with known holes in Medicaid funding.

Still, we imagine there would have been a little more urgency from the Legislature this year if they had known, but the Department of Health and Social Services waited until a week out to mention it.

But perhaps this is the new trend as DHSS also happened to run out of money for the senior benefits program and opted to cut off payments to 4,731 seniors instead of bringing up the problem to legislators ahead of time.

Is this what they intended when they brought in Commissioner Adam Crum with all his sweet, sweet efficiency-realizing mission-driven private-sector acumen?

Anyways, we suppose we’ll see what’s next on Monday at noon.

Per Diem

Meanwhile there are rumblings in the Legislature that the law preventing legislators from collecting per diem during a special until they pass a budget might not be so binding.

There’s differing opinions on this that we’ve heard: The first is that language in the law was a little more slippery and legislators will automatically get their per diem anyways (we don’t buy this and neither does Legislative Affairs Director Jessica Geary) and the second being that the Legislative Council could just vote to make per diem payments retroactive.

The second method seems to have a bit of rumor-mill traction behind it even though everyone we’ve talked to seems to think it’d be an incredibly bad idea that would anger the public and hand the governor yet another talking point about all these PFD-hungry politicians.

We’ve also heard that if this does come to pass that a new initiative could be in the works.

In his image

The governor has cleaned house on the Alaska Human Rights Commission this week, jettisoning three more members including the newly elected chair. All but one of the seven members is now a Dunleavy appointee.

One of the removed members is Kathryn Dodge, who you might remember as the Fairbanks Democrat who came within one vote of a House seat against Rep. Bart LeBon. She also happens to be running against Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly, the real winner whose accolades includes blaming his girlfriend for a Facebook post mocking Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and vetoing a widely popular equal rights ordinance.

We wonder why it took his team this long to figure out she’s a Democrat.

Missing from the list

The new Human Rights Commission appointees were among a long list of new boards and commission appointments released this week.

On the list is Dunleavy’s former legislative aide John Wood who scored an appointment to the Board of Fisheries. The takeaway from KBBI is “In the world of Alaska fish politics, John Wood is not a big player.”

Ouch.

What’s notably missing is an appointment to the Marijuana Control Board. It’s not entirely surprising because the governor said he’d leave it vacant for the time being (something he also said about the Board of Fish seat) when the Legislature rejected Vivian Stiver’s appointment to the board.

Still, it’s raised some rumblings that the governor has another anti-pot nominee in mind to appoint during the interim. Appointments at this point will get to serve until the Legislature comes back next year.

‘That’s My House’

The wonderful Marian Call is in Anchorage this week, where’s she’s the featured performer at this year’s Spenard Jazz Fest with a Sunday show at the Church of Love. She recently published a recording of her performance of “That’s My House” from the Alaska Folk Festival and it’s totally worth a listen.

Enjoy the weekend everybody, be kind and creative.

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