Happy Friday, everyone! This miserable, largely uneventful week of the Alaska Legislature is over so it’s time to take solace in the one thing that matters anymore: unsubstantiated rumors and political gossip!
As always, you can send your tips, suggestions and criticisms (that will totally not get under my skin all weekend) to [email protected].
Just 17 days remain in the regular session.
Internal power struggles within the House Majority Coalition have sidelined the operating budget this week. Nothing’s happened on the bill other than the caucus-splitting vote to institute a $2,700 dividend by spending nearly $900 million from the earnings reserve account of the Alaska Permanent Fund.
It doesn’t take a crystal ball to read the situation, but there’s no expectation for the bill to get passed before the end of the weekend. The betting money (oh, I mean guessing money) is on the budget passing early next week, but even that timeline has its detractors. It’s really in a pretty bad situation.
As far as we understand, there’s still talk about potentially undoing the vote on increasing the PFD by either completely rescinding the vote or reducing the amount by some amount.
We had wondered earlier in the week why not leave it to the Senate, which has been more hardline about using the PFD to fund state government, but it seems like there’s not a lot of confidence that the Senate has the stomach to cut the dividend that deeply. Perhaps a few hundred dollars, but not a lot more. That leaves the House Majority Coalition and its budget-minded people like Rep. Paul Seaton and allies in a tough place. A majority of the caucus did vote against the full PFD.
There’s been increasing rumbles about taxes and we’ve heard that some of the hardline anti-tax Republicans are privately moving closer to at least acknowledging the need for some sort of new revenue beyond cutting dividends to balance the situation. We doubt it will amount to anything this session, but still it’s movement.
The undercurrent with everything in the Legislature is a keen awareness that this year’s elections will play a major role in Alaska’s 2020 redistricting. Partisan politics will always dominate the Legislature, but with redistricting’s potential to bust up caucuses it’s now more important than ever. Not really a scoop or anything, but talk about redistricting is starting to percolate so it’s something to keep in mind.
We’ve heard wind that Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz and the state will be announcing some sort of joint initiative to tackle the city’s crime problem today. Interesting timing given the election next week. Still, with the vote-by-mail election whatever the announcement is likely won’t have a significant outcome on the race.
That’s the number of ballots have been returned as of last night. Mail those suckers in!
Alaska Policy Forum
A lot of people were baffled by KTUU’s decision to run a story on Anchorage municipal salaries that’s sourced by the conservative Alaska Policy Forum a week out from the election. As any journalist would tell you, that information is readily available for any outlet to get on their own and process on their own. Running it through the filter of the Alaska Policy Forum looks at best lazy and at worst politically motivated.
Won’t somebody PLEASE think about the guns?
Rep. Lora Reinbold is particularly bothered by the topics the House will be considering on Good Friday. That’d include contraception, gun violence and anti-discrimination measures. Earlier this week she took the bold move of badgering a high school student who testified in support of a gun violence bill before taking the even bolder move of standing up for the guns.
The Anchorage Daily News has a new opinion editor in Fairbanks-famous (and Alaska-famous) journalist Tom Hewitt, and we’re totally not going to miss him at all (sniff). Hewitt began his professional career as a reporter on Fairbanks television station KTVF before becoming the opinion editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. He most recently worked as the news director of KTVF.
We suggest starting a Tom Hewitt Classic with bets either on when he’ll be back in Fairbanks or when he’ll tell us that, seriously, Anchorage is pretty alright.
Though the primary is still quite a ways out, it’s hard to see how without a major shakeup former Wasilla Sen. Mike Dunleavy isn’t going to be the party’s nominee for governor. He’s got his brother’s money going into an independent expenditure campaign and capitalized on PFD politics (if even his promises probably don’t pencil out).
That said, we’ve still heard plenty of rumblings that Republicans–particularly centrist business-focused Republicans–are still pretty unhappy with the prospect that Dunleavy–who never passed a bill during his years in the Legislature–would take the state’s executive office. We’ve heard talk–and it’s probably just talk–that some key Republicans have discussed the possibility of campaigning for Walker if it’s race between the two.
Though no Republican would openly admit it, Gov. Bill Walker’s last few years in office have endeared him more with those centrist business-type Republicans than you’d think.
If the Legislature could just figure out 325 more House Bill 399s then it could close the state’s budget deficit and avert the need to cut the PFD at all. House Bill 399, by the House Finance Committee, would repeal a handful of tax credits and net the state about $6.9 million per year when fully up and running. It’s much more of a good governance bill aimed at cleaning up old laws that are no longer meeting their purpose, but it’s also one of the only new revenue bills considered this year.
The Senate hasn’t been particularly hot on Rep. Jason Grenn’s House Bill 44, which would institute tougher conflict-of-interest rules on the Legislature (senators are still smarting over the suggestion that oil company employees voting on a oil tax break was somehow improper). This week they took an unusual move of strengthening the bill by essentially inserting the entirety of the Government Accountability Act, a voter initiative that Grenn (and the publisher of The Midnight Sun, Jim Lottsfeldt) is involved with. A legal opinion says the bill is similar enough to the initiative to likely knock it off the ballot, which also would do away with the measure’s two-year protection against repeal by the Legislature.
GOP political consultant Ben Sparks, who made his mark on Alaska by running the 2014 campaign of U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan and later run out of the Capitol, was fired from his most recent political job as a consultant with embattled GOP incumbent New Mexico Rep. Yvette Herrell. Sparks, according to the Associate Press, is facing a domestic violence investigation after a police report of a domestic dispute.
The Legislature’s annual bipartisan social event is this weekend in the form of Legislative Skits. It’s usually a fun blow-off before everyone sets in for the final stretch, but this year is filled with particularly bad blood. Still, we have faith that the hard-working skitters, whoever they are, will find a way to put on a fun show. Be safe and be smart, everyone.