It’s “silly” for Senate Republicans to act like education budget is unfixable, says Seaton

Senate President Pete Kelly and House Finance Committee co-chair Rep. Paul Seaton.

Republicans are still fuming over the victory lap Democrats took after passing their education budget last week, emphatically pointing out that there’s no actual funding attached to the bill as if it was a point that everyone overlooked.

Republican legislators and their allies have happily raked Democrats over the coals, acting like it was a grand mistake that the Democrats didn’t include an alternative funding source to the failed constitutional budget reserve withdrawal as if it wasn’t the plan all along. But the Senate has stopped well short of committing to fix the “error,” suggesting that the error by the House is so grave that the damage cannot be undone by the legislative process.

“The ability to early fund is now in question based on the fact they didn’t fund it,” Senate President Pete Kelly said at Monday’s news conference. “We’ll do what we can. We’re going to look at that. We’re examine it up and down. … We’ll figure this out, but they shouldn’t think that it’s fixed just because we have it in our hands.”

Exactly what there is to figure out is unclear. The Senate doesn’t have a lot of options for early funding education so it should more or less be a matter of picking between the constitutional budget reserve, the general fund or the earnings reserve of the Alaska Permanent Fund.

Rep. Paul Seaton, the sponsor of the House education budget bill, fired back at the following day’s House Majority Coalition news conference. He said the House would consider whatever the Senate passes back.

“I thought it was kind of silly to project that the Senate Finance Committee would not be able to figure out how to add a funding source. They could take the exact language that the House Majority had in the bill and take that out of the CBR,” he said. “If they send it back to us with a CBR, I am confident that the minority will agree that early funding of education is very important and would do it. If the Senate wants to take it out of the earnings reserve, they could subtract that from a future draw from the earnings reserve, and we would consider that. It just depends on the priority of your funding source. The options are all on the table for the Senate to put whichever funding source they think is best in that.”

The House minority Republicans addressed the potential of a CBR vote coming out of the Senate during their Thursday-morning news conference, saying it would be difficult for the House Republicans to sign off on a draw. Rep. Dan Saddler said the general fund is still the minority’s preferred funding source.

So then, the Senate can pick the general fund or possibly the earnings reserve account.

Why it matters

The reality of the education budget is that none of this exercise has as much to do with education as much as it does about settling a major piece of the budget early in the session. A withdrawal from the CBR in the House requires the votes of minority Republicans to reach the three-quarter threshold for a withdrawal, and currently every plan depends on such a vote.

End-of-session budget battles often boil down to what the minority caucus can extract from the majority in return for the votes for a CBR draw, often becoming a protracted weeks-long battle. Democrats did it when they were in the minority and Republicans will do it when they’re in the minority. After all, it’s the only piece of leverage a minority has in the budget process.

The House Majority Coalition felt it had a winning hand to tie the vote to education and settle the battle well before the the 30-day mark and a consolation prize–forcing minority Republicans to cast a vote that can be framed as a vote against education–if it failed.

The GOP backlash to the education bill is entirely fair in pointing out that this education budget doesn’t include funding, and the Democrats are very much playing politics with this vote. The Senate has an opportunity to take the education debate, settle it however it sees fit and force the Legislature to move onto other fights. Instead, the longer the fight over the education budget continues, the longer session will go.

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