House pledges third vote on capital budget after coming up one vote short

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon during a floor session on May 3, 2019. (Photo by Alaska House Majority press)

The House saw significant progress toward passing a properly funded capital budget that would restore dozens of funds liquidated by Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy on Monday, but significant progress still left legislators one vote shy of the 30 needed to put the budget to rest.

Senate Bill 2002 would put up the funds for the state to secure nearly $1 billion in federal transportation project funding and would restore dozens of program-specific funds that had been liquidated and swept into the Constitutional Budget Reserve through an unprecedented and expanded sweep under the direction of Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy.

The vote on the Constitutional Budget reserve first failed on Sunday but the margin narrowed to 29-7 on Monday when it was taken up under reconsideration, gaining a handful of Anchorage-area minority Republicans who said they didn’t want to see programs like state university scholarships or the WWAMI medical program disappear. The vote is entirely separate from the Legislature’s ongoing effort to reverse the to governor’s vetoes or pay a dividend.

The chamber has one last chance to get 30 votes on this version of the bill by rescinding its vote. House Speaker Bryce Edgmon says to expect such a vote when the chance at a better outcome becomes possible.

“This bill not passing is having immediate impacts, and Alaskans are understandably nervous and angry as they witness continuing gridlock in Juneau. Jobs, scholarships and vital services are all on the line,” he said in a prepared statement. “We are not giving up hope. We thank everyone who voted for the capital budget and for the growing commitment to find compromise on this issue and the many other challenges ahead.”

The no votes were Reps. David Eastman, Sharon Jackson, DeLena Johnson, Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, Cathy Tilton, Sarah Vance and Tammie Wilson. Reps. Mark Neuman, George Rauscher and Dave Talerico were out on excused absences for medical reasons while Rep. Ben Carpenter was reportedly tending his peony farm in the Kenai.

Talerico, the relatively moderate member of the bunch, posted an update about his condition this morning hoping that he would have some good news soon and be able to return to Juneau:

The vote would also set up a $250 million buffer that would allow government to keep operating in the case of a significant drop in oil revenue or emergency expenses like those incurred with forest fires, earthquakes or other unexpected costs. Such a buffer has been approved in the past, but it’s become the latest sticking point for a dwindling group of minority Republicans hellbent on opposing the bill.

Some incorrectly called it a unprecedented blank check, others said they couldn’t vote for it without knowing what the rest of the state’s budget would look like and most said they are still holding out for a $3,000 PFD.

If their support is conditioned on a $3,000 PFD or nothing, they and the rest of Alaska will need to keep waiting.

The House Finance Committee rolled out a new version of its PFD bill on Monday afternoon that would also restore all but about $90 million of Dunleavy’s $444 million in vetoes. The bill would maintain a roughly $26 million total cut to the University of Alaska’s state funding, maintain a $50 million veto to school bond debt reimbursement and maintain a flurry of vetoes of state travel.

It would pay out a surplus dividend of about $1,300 and proposes boosting it to $1,605 with a withdrawal from the Statutory Budget Reserve as long as the House reaches the 30-vote margin on the capital budget.

The PFD bill is due on the House floor today.

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