Facing pressure over federal highway funds, Dunleavy calls legislators back to Juneau

Something might be going on in there.The Alaska State Capitol building as photographed in 2010. (Photo by Kimberly Vardeman/Creative Commons)

With the deadline fast approaching for the state to either put up the money for nearly $1 billion in federal highway money or risk losing it entirely, Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy is finally getting on board with the majority of the Legislature’s desire to meet in Juneau.

Wednesday afternoon, the governor issued an amended proclamation for the special session that sets the location in Juneau and adds the capital budget, which is the vehicle for receiving the federal highway money and potentially other spending items, to what can be taken up by legislators.

The House and Senate are both set to meet in Juneau today. The House is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. and the Senate is scheduled to meet at 2 p.m.

“In my daily discussions with legislators – those both in Wasilla and in Juneau – many have acknowledged that real progress needs to be made on the capital budget and that work cannot be completed until the legislature is meeting in one location,” Dunleavy said in a prepared statement accompanying the announcement. “With sensitivity to the time that remains to capture federal funds, the Legislature will be able to quickly consider the capital budget, the PFD, and conclude this work for the people of Alaska before the end of July.”

The announcement brings an end to a week-and-a-half game of chicken between the governor and the majority of the Alaska Legislature. Last week, 38 legislators met in Juneau to consider the governor’s veto overrides while 22 either refused or found excuses to avoid returning to Juneau.

The holdouts successfully helped the governor’s vetoes stand while pledging to potentially work on some sort of negotiated compromise that would restore some funding for the vetoed projects while also paying out a $3,000 PFD from state reserves. Legislators on both sides say there’s progress on this front but have generally offered no specifics or a timeline for a deal.

What does have a timeline is the requirement for the state to put up the money to secure nearly $1 billion in federal highway money before the end of July.

While Alaska’s all-Republican congressional delegation has typically shied away from wading into state politics, they did sound off on Thursday about the risk of losing out on the money they helped secure.

The Anchorage Daily News reported statements from U.S. Rep. Don Young, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski and U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan that urged compromise between the Legislature and the governor in light of the federal funding.

“I’m hopeful that the governor and Legislature can move us forward,” Young said. “That’s in the best interest of the people of Alaska. When it comes to federal funding, Alaskans know that I’ve always put them first, and will continue to do so as their sole representative in Congress.”

Here’s the statement from Sullivan’s office.

“Senator Sullivan is optimistic that the Legislature and the governor reach an agreement soon on funding the capital budget, to ensure that hard fought matching federal funds—like the hundreds of millions of infrastructure funding secured by the Alaska Congressional delegation—can be used for the benefit of all Alaskans,” his office said.

Murkowski was the only member to discuss cuts in her statement, urging a “sober discussion” on the impacts of the cuts.

“While budget reductions are needed, how these cuts are implemented is important too,” she said in a prepared statement. “These are difficult decisions that require sober discussion. I urge all members of our Legislature to productively engage—together as Alaskans—with the governor and his team to quickly resolve the uncertainty that is facing so many. Alaskans deserve no less.”

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