AKLEG Recap, Week 10: House Coalition legislators at odds over PFD

Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, talks with House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, during a 2017 floor session. (Photo by Alaska House Majority Coalition Press)

The 10th week of the Legislature’s session is over and there’s still really no end in sight. Here’s what happened and what to look forward to.

Just 21 days left to go (and six to file for your dividend).

House Majority Coalition comes to blows

The House’s operating budget process struggled through most of last week. Anticipated evening floor sessions almost never came to be, and the House left for the weekend without even amendments on the operating budget finished. The seeming preference of minority amendments seemed to focus on adding unenforceable intent language to the bill (something that the House Majority Coalition has certainly also done through the rest of the budget process). We also saw some pretty jarring treatment of House Speaker Bryce Edgmon throughout the week.

But the most interesting development was the internal struggle of the House Majority Coalition over an amendment that would fully restore the permanent fund dividend. Amendment 1 by Reps. Tuck, LeDoux, Parish, Spohnholz, Tarr, and Kawasaki. However, just as it was offered Rep. Paul Seaton offered an amendment that would have increased the percent of market value draw from the permanent fund and set a dividend at $1,600.

The ensuing debate laid bare some of the deep disagreements between the members of the House Majority Coalition on how the dividend should be treated this year. Some argued for a full restoration of the dividend while others argued that a somewhat reduced dividend of $1,600 was more fiscally prudent.

Ultimately, Seaton’s amendment was defeated. House Majority Coalition Reps. Sam Kito, Chris Tuck, Geran Tarr and Gabrielle LeDoux split from the majority to side with minority Republicans in opposing the amendment.

The House was recessed after that and then adjourned at 5:45 p.m. They’ll be back at it today at 11 a.m.

Operating amendment counts

Legislators submitted 84 amendments to the House operating budget. By our count, nine were either withdrawn or never offered, nine were ruled out of order, three were tabled and 46 went to a vote and failed. Just four amendments have been passed.

There are 13 amendments, including the permanent fund dividend amendment, yet to be considered. The other 12 were rolled to the bottom of the amendment stack and have yet to be taken up.

The Senate is already moving ahead with budget closeouts, and the Senate Finance Committee has already scheduled mid-week, early afternoon public testimony on the budget.

Senate Democrats walk out over “phony” spending cap

The Republican-led Senate Majority and independent Republicans voted to pass a statutory spending limit of $4.1 billion in undesignated general fund spending. The cap would exclude funding for the capital budget and permanent fund dividend checks among other types of funding. It’s also likely unenforceable because it’s in statute and because the Alaska Constitution bars one Legislature from tying the hands of another.

The Senate Democrats saw that and after offering nearly a dozen amendments to exempt certain kinds of spending ended up walking out in protest.

Oil tax credit plan gains new life

Legislators have been reluctant to take up Gov. Bill Walker’s plan to pay off the hundreds of millions of dollars the state still owes oil companies for tax credits earned before they were largely repealed last year. Walker’s plan would call for the state to borrow money to pay them off at a reduced rate, which the administration argues would either cost the state the same or less over the course of the loans.

While there’s still plenty of legislators who are skeptical of the bill (a lot of them being in the House Majority Coalition), the governor’s plan is slowly winning over key supporters. The whole saga is explained in the Anchorage Daily News story published this weekend: “Oil companies in Alaska say they’re owed $800 million. Lawmakers have been slow to advance the governor’s plan to pay them.” Both Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, and Sen. Cathy Geissel, R-Anchorage, have come to support the measure.

That’s notable because the two Resource Committee chairs have rarely agreed on oil and gas taxes or policy. The Senate Resource Committee advanced the legislation on Friday and the House Resources Committee has scheduled a hearing for this week.

Gun violence protective orders

The House Judiciary Committee has multiple meetings scheduled on House Bill 75, Rep. Geran Tarr’s bill that would create a system to temporarily take away a person’s guns if their immediate family or law enforcement can convince a judge that the person is at immediate risk of harming themselves or others. The bill was supposed to  get a new committee substitute last week, but those plans ran into the endless floor sessions.

Other bills to watch

There’s plenty going on with legislation right now, too. A few bills to watch this week include:

  • SB 192 by Anna MacKinnon would allow people to keep their addresses they use for voter registration confidential. It’d also raise the price for the state’s voter database to $100 per senate district or $1,500 for the statewide list. It’s already passed out of the State Affairs Committee and is scheduled for a 9 a.m. Wednesday Senate Finance Committee meeting.
  • House Bill 282 and House Bill 284 are Gov. Bill Walker’s capital budget and capital budget that’s contingent on a tax being passed. They’re both scheduled for today’s 1:30 p.m. House Finance Committee.
  • HB 390 by Rep. Justin Parish would institute ranked-choice voting in Alaska. Voters would rank each candidate by their preference, creating an instant runoff system. It has hearings at the 8 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday hearings in the Community and Regional Affairs. Here’s how it’d work and some of the advantages it’d have over the current system and some of its pitfalls:

What we’re reading

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