Legislators will head to Wasilla on Tuesday, but not to the Wasilla Middle School in order to fall in line behind Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy and his 22 holdout legislators.
Instead, the stop will be the second day of a three-day road show for the House Finance Committee to take public testimony on the special session’s only bill: A bill to pay out a PFD—and not at the size the governor has demanded.
Instead the bill would pay out what the Legislature is calling a “surplus PFD.”
The latest version of House Bill 2001, which was introduced at an Anchorage hearing this morning, pays out a PFD based on the surplus between revenues, including the draw from the Alaska Permanent Fund’s earnings reserve account and oil taxes, and state government.
To figure out what’s left over, the bill restores funding to all the programs and agencies that were vetoed by the governor in both the operating and capital budgets. It funds the gap left in the capital budget and contains the reverse sweep that would restore funding to the Power Cost Equalization fund and the Higher Education Investment Fund among others. It’s essentially a do-it-all bill for the Legislature.
The expanded scope of the bill struck a nerve with Dunleavy-aligned legislators Reps. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard and Cathy Tilton, who both said they doubted the legislation would be allowable under the special session call: In this case, just the PFD.
They also continued to doubt the legality of the entire special session because it didn’t convene in Wasilla, with Tilton saying her presence was a “good faith effort.”
The Legislature’s legal counsel Megan Wallace said, though, that the Alaska Supreme Court hasn’t set a clear test about what’s allowable and not allowable under a special session call. She said some other states have adopted a “rational nexus” test that gives Legislatures broad latitude to address issues that are related to the special session call.
“It’s my opinion that there’s no question that the power to limit the subjects cannot infringe on the Alaska Legislature’s power of appropriation,” she said, explaining that the Legislature can essentially decide how to fund a PFD bill.
And House Finance Committee co-chair Rep. Neal Foster explained that that’s pretty much the goal with the bill. To figure out a surplus, you need to figure out what you’re spending.
“This is a surplus PFD bill and in order to know what the surplus is we had to include all the items that are listed in the operating budget and the capital budget to come to what the surplus amount was to determine what the PFD would be,” he said. “Again, this is a surplus PFD bill and we had to put the information in there to know what the surplus is.”
Why it matters
The legislation is essentially an opening bid for the Legislature as it sets to work with governor and the governor’s legislative allies. It’s also the lowest PFD amount that’s been put on the table so far, suggesting that the governor’s hardball, scorched-earth tactics with the vetoes and fund sweeps are doing little to change minds.
The Wasilla holdouts have suggested some interest in replacing funds for some of the items vetoed but have not publicly offered any specifics or a timeline for such a proposal to be delivered.
There’s potential—if the Wasilla holdouts decide to engage as opposed to continuing to cry foul over the session—that the legislation’s restorations of funding could be pared down to suit their needs while the amount of the PFD could be increased. That’s contingent on whether or not they engage, something that today’s protests suggest may not be coming any time soon.
Still, if the holdouts refuse to get on board to reach a compromise, it will leave the legislation without the votes necessary for an override. The governor has pledged to veto any legislation that doesn’t deliver him a $3,000 dividend so it’s also possible that this current course of action will not even yield a dividend—even if it’s just a surplus payout.
The Legislature will hold three five-hour public testimony hearings in Anchorage this afternoon, Wasilla on Tuesday and Fairbanks on Wednesday. Here’s the specifics:
Testimony is limited to two minutes per person
Anchorage—2 p.m. to 7 p.m., July 15 at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office
Wasilla—2 p.m. to 7 p.m., July 16 at the Wasilla Legislative Information Office
Fairbanks—2 p.m. to 7 p.m., July 17 at the Fairbanks Legislative Information Office
The House Finance Committee then plans to return to Juneau for meetings on the bill on Thursday and Friday. Floor sessions in the House and Senate are scheduled for Wednesday but are unlikely to have anything of importance on the agenda.