AKLEG Recap, Day 71: Walker signs fast-track budget to keep ferries, Medicaid running

Gov. Bill Walker is flanked by staff and legislators after signing the fast-track supplemental budget on Tuesday, March, 27, 2018. (Photo by House Majority Coalition)

When a bill signing is the most significant development of the 71st legislative day, you know things aren’t going well in the Alaska Legislature. The House continues to be stalled out over the operating budget and its extra $900 million dollars of spending on the dividend while everyone else seems to be waiting for the critical legislation to advance. Here’s what happened and what to look forward to.

Just 19 days left.

Walker signs supplemental

Gov. Bill Walker signed the $110.2 million fast-track supplemental budget into law on Tuesday. The bill covers expenses for state operations, like the Alaska Marine Highway System and Medicaid, that were not covered in the operating budget passed last year.

The headline items of the budget include the following:

  • $45 million to keep Medicaid running through the end of the 121-day legislative session.
  • $23.9 million to fully fund the Alaska Marine Highway System for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends on June 30.
  • $30 million deposit into the
  • $18.2 million for the Department of Corrections to cover higher-than-expected inmate housing and health care costs.
  • $30 million transfer from the Alaska Comprehensive Health Insurance fund to the Community Assistance Fund (which was formerly the community revenue sharing fund).
  • $5 million for the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation to help manage the recent growth of the permanent fund.
  • $4 milion deposit into the disaster relief fund to cover potential spring disasters. The budget only currently contains $2 million for spring-time disasters.
  • $121,300 to extend the Legislature’s lease of the Anchorage Legislative Information Office in the Benson Boulevard Wells Fargo building.
  • $322,000 to pay for a settlement with a former Department of Environmental Conservation employee who was fired in June 2013 and brought a case against the state for lost wages and benefits due to the dismissal.

The total undesignated general fund spend for the budget is about $92 million.

Without the funding, the Alaska Marine Highway System and Medicaid reimbursements to health care providers would have both come to a halt next month. Legislators intentionally underfunded both programs in last year’s budget, but the scope and scale of the Medicaid costs was much higher than expected.

The state initially requested more than $90 million to cover Medicaid for the remainder of the year, but that has been met with backlash from conservative legislators and no funding was included in the original version of the fast-track supplemental budget.

Health care providers rose the alarms that some smaller providers could go out of business if they don’t receive their Medicaid payments on time (they are owed them one way or another). The Legislature then came to an agreement to fund about half of the program, keeping it running through the Alaska Constitution’s 121-day session.

Still nothing in the House

The operating budget continued to be stalled out on Tuesday after Monday’s caucus-splitting vote to restore full funding to the PFDs brought the process to a standstill. The House floor met on Tuesday to introduce guests before being recessed 10:48 a.m. and eventually returned in the evening just to adjourn for the day.

It appears that much of the behind-the-scenes fight is about whether or not to send the budget over to the Senate still containing the full dividend. KTUU reports that some House legislators are seeking to either rescind the vote or still reduce the amount (something that’s already failed in the House).

Given the Senate has been frosty about seemingly popularity-contest moves like enshrining the dividend in the constitution and Gov. Bill Walker’s previous action to cut the dividend, it’s odd that the House would continue to be holding onto the budget. Both the Senate and Walker are more likely than not willing to do what that group of House legislators wants.

Regardless, the delay has forced the cancellation of even more meetings, including today’s planned public testimony in the Senate Finance Committee.

More bills heading to House floor

Even though the House hasn’t done much beyond fighting over the dividend for the last three days of session, the House has added two more bills to the House calendar. There’s House Bill 25 by Rep. Matt Claman’s bill that would require health insurers cover contraceptives (including long-lasting and voluntary sterilization procedures) and require insurers to cover a full 12 months of prescription birth control at a time. House Bill 25 sat in the Rules Committee since last year and was the feature of a few non-Rules Committee hearings intended to get it to the floor.

There’s also now House Bill 110 by Rep. Sam Kito, which deals with massage therapy and the Board of Massage Therapists. The bill also faced a fair amount of negotiations recently, and Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux (the chair of the Rules Committee) took ownership of a related bill by Rep. Dean Westlake to withdraw it earlier in the session.

Jonesville Public Use Area

Sen. Mike Shower’s Senate Bill 65 (originally introduced by former Sen. Mike Dunleavy) is also headed to the Senate floor. It would designate the Jonesville Public Use Area near Sutton. The bill doesn’t do much beyond the designation because it doesn’t include any funding for the state, and a it’s estimated to take a few years before the state can even consider generating a plan for the area with existing resources.

The main reason it’s notable is Rep. George Rauscher’s House Bill 6, which does the same thing, has been sitting in the House Rules Committee since May of last year.

Senate subcommittee nixes $4 million for rural public safety

The Senate Finance Subcommittee on the Department of Public Safety rejected Gov. Bill Walker’s roughly $4 million request for public safety efforts in rural Alaska. The money would have boosted the Alaska State Troopers’ ability to respond to incidents in rural Alaska by improving air access and other funding increases. It was turned down, according to the Anchorage Daily News, because the Senate is considering overall pay increases for troopers intended to meet a deeper problem with officer retention.

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