Friday in the Sun (March 16): The March Sadness edition

Friday in the Sun is here

The snow’s melting, the Iditarod is coming to an end with Norway picking up another win to put on top of its pile of Olympic gold medals and it’s time for that weekly stroll down the unsubstantiated, take-it-with-a-grain-of-salt, fast-deteriorating ski trail of political rumors and gossip.

Just 31 days to go.

March Sadness

The Senate is apparently channeling its inner Alcohol and Marijuana Control office this week when it dumped cold water all over the Legislature’s March Madness bracket league, which just so happens to be run out of the office of Senate President Pete Kelly’s Democratic challenger Rep. Scott Kawasaki.

“Fun”–and, sure, gambling (the sort of gambling that goes on in nearly every office workplace nationwide)–is apparently no longer allowed, according to a story published by The Alaska Landmine on the issue. The Landmine is also stepping in with its own $100 prize for the winner of the league after a penitent staffer had to go around returning money. Good on ya Jeff.

From what we’ve heard, there’s pretty widespread bad feelings about the decision. The league is the sort of thing that Republicans, Democrats and independents all participate in, as they have done so for years, and it serves as a bit of camaraderie-building in a time when camaraderie is at an all-time low.

We’ve also heard that pretty much every in the building knows who the tattle tales are.

Descent into meanness

Along those same lines, a former division director gave the Senate Finance Committee an earful on its proposed bill to institute a spending limit (which has no real binding power because, you know, the Alaska Constitution and the Legislature’s ability to repeal statutes).

“What I’ve seen as I’ve grown up … is a descent into meanness,” said Michelle Hale, who worked as the director for Department of Environmental Conservation’s Division of Water. “A sort of hatred of government, and a hatred of government that doesn’t necessarily reflect what government does. … I was a director of a state agency for six years and I’m no longer in that position because in part you guys wore me out.”

She blasted the Senate Finance Committee’s insistence that a spending limit is the solution plummeting revenues and will somehow refill the state’s depleted savings accounts.

“After leaving that position, my spending has had to be reduced significantly because I don’t have the income that I had coming in previously,” she said. “But in addition to tightening my belt and buying things from Costco and reducing my spending, I’m also out there earning money. You have to do both. You can’t fill a savings account by just making cuts. It doesn’t work, you have to bring in money.”

She also criticized the Senate’s predilection for unallocated cuts.

“Leaving it up to the agencies means they’re left trying to grasp what the Legislature doesn’t want them to do,” she said. “I feel like in a way Alaska–even though we’re this new state that was filled with such hope–in maturity levels we’re about a six. We say what I want and I need rather than thinking about how do we be a mature state that takes care what needs to be done.”

Defining and confining a load

Speaking about maturity, the House spent an unabashedly long time on a bill that would set penalties in state law for unconstrained loads and somehow stayed away from the sophomoric humor that dominated Twitter at the time. Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, even offered an amendment to define just what a load is.

It’s a fair deal better than when the House joked around about “passing gas” a few years ago.

A late registration

A few weeks ago we vague-wrote about some eyebrow-raising unregistered lobbying for a certain program. It has appeared that has since been rectified with a retroactive lobbying registration.

No biggie, it’s just a $30,000 contract.

Dividend drama

The House Majority Coalition attempted to make a quick move on its proposal to constitutionalize the PFD (albeit at the lower rate alongside their proposed version of the percent of market value draw that would fund government) this week with a bill hearing, public testimony hearing and another hearing in the span of about 24 hours. The House Finance Committee appeared headed to amendments and passing it out of committee on Wednesday, but those plans were axed after being met with a mountain of backlash.

More than two hours of scathing testimony prompted the less-than-ideal response from Rep. Paul Seaton, who suggested people just didn’t understand the resolution.

Still, from what we’ve heard, the resolution is still very much in play and will reappear at some point. It sounds like the House Majority Coalition is serious about trying to get to 27 votes even though some of its 22 members don’t like the resolution, which means they’ll be making some deals with the minority Republicans.

Vice News

We hear that HBO’s Vice News Tonight is looking to come up to Alaska to do a story on the PFD sometime in the next few weeks. There’s also word that other national outlets are sniffing around at dividend stories.

Facebook fight

While airing textbook attack ads this week, GOP-backed Anchorage mayoral candidate Rebecca Logan dove into the Facebook comments win over the hearts and minds of voters with choice lines like “you aren’t good at research” and “you are a good team player for liberals.”

Go vote… by mail!

Anchorage’s first vote-by-mail election is underway today and there’s no better advertisement for the change than this video put together by friend of the blog/podcast Genevieve Mina.

Double down on Dunleavy

The Republicans held their state convention last weekend. There was John Binkley’s self-aware tease about running for governor and Mike Dunleavy took home a win.

Measures headed to the ballot

The Stand for Salmon Initiative and the Government Accountability Act (which has the help of Midnight Sun Publisher Jim Lottsfeldt) are both set to appear on this year’s ballot.

Operating budget finally almost done

After the foray off into the woods of House Joint Resolution 23, the House Finance Committee finally wrapped up amendments on the operating budget late Thursday afternoon. We lost track a long time ago, but the last numbers we saw put the amendment number near 100. The committee still has to adopt a committee substitute, advance it from committee and get it through another marathon amendment session on the House floor.

Buckle up.

Half now, half later… maybe

The House also passed the somewhat-fast fast-track supplemental budget bill this week with a little less than half the money needed to keep Medicaid operating for the rest of the year. It conspicuously keeps the program running through what would be day 121 of the session, which has to comfort precisely no one who cares about keeping the program running and providers paid through the rest of the fiscal year.

We’ve heard that the rest of the money will make it in the budget, but have been told to expect a fair amount of arm twisting (over funding expenses already owed by the state). Expect significant attention to the small, roughly $4 million ask that’s due to Medicaid expansion.

Tariff trouble

Trump’s 25 percent tariff on steel and 10 percent tariff on aluminum are already costing Alaskans more–and not just on the proposed pipeline. Fabricators up in Fairbanks have already seen a spike to the cost of imported goods.

Still, the development has forced some folks to stake out positions on the state’s LNG project. Namely, we’ve seen Sen. Dan Sullivan come out as a full booster for Alaska’s LNG project (which took another step forward this week) according to a article by the for the paywalled Upstream News.

“Alaska makes sense for a lot of reasons. The alignment between the buyers and the producers and the state of Alaska is the key to that project, and I’m going to continue to help our state legislature and governor move it forward,” he told the publication.

It’s day 60

Maximum Max

Amid all the nasty partisanship that’s boiling over from the Legislature and into Friday in the Sun, let’s finish off today with the most heart-warming thing we’ve seen this session. Rep. Steve Thompson and his son Max, who helped present a bill to the House Finance Committee. (Full disclosure, as a long-time Fairbanks reporter I’ve always had a soft spot for Rep. Thompson and his ability to put his head down and get things done regardless of the situation he’s put in. Also, Max definitely can name more U.S. presidents off the top of his head than I can.)

And also his first Tweet:

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