AKLEG Recap, Day 86: House Majority Coalition down to 21 members

Rep. Sam Kito and his beard. (Photo by House Majority Coalition)

The House Majority Coalition is down to 21 members and the operating budget is on the Senate floor. Here’s what happened and what to look forward to.

Four days remain (be sure to give in your Gavel Classic guesses).

Kito departs

The Tuesday House Rules Committee meeting that saw chair Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, introduce her own version of smoke-free workplaces bill was a step too far for Rep. Sam Kito. The Juneau representative walked out of the hearing in protest, and on Wednesday the Juneau Empire reported that for all intents and purposes Kito has left the House Majority Coalition.

“It’s fair to say I will not be participating in caucus meetings from this time forward,” Kito told the Empire after the meeting.

There hasn’t been an official word on Kito’s status with the coalition, with House Speaker Bryce Edgmon only going as far to tell the Empire the following:

“Well, we have 21,” Edgmon said, declining additional comment to the paper.

Normally, the implications of a member splitting from a 22-member caucus would be disastrous news, but it’s hard to see how the departure of Kito–who’s already announced his plans to not seek reelection and has already broken from the caucus on key votes–will have a significant impact.

The House Majority Coalition is unlike many other majority caucuses. Where other caucuses bind members to vote on key elements like the budget and procedural votes, the House Majority Coalition is non-binding.

In fact, both Kito and LeDoux cast votes against different key parts of the operating budget. That would normally get those legislators booted from the caucus and stripped of their positions.

It’ll be interesting to watch how Kito’s committee membership and staffing will affected by his departure in the final week of session. Kito is the chair of the House Labor and Commerce Committee (where he’s refused to hear a bill that would settle the cocktail issue for distilleries).

Senate sends off Egan and Gardner

The Senate had a touching send-off for Sens. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, and Dennis Egan, D-Juneau. Both senators plan to retire from the Legislature after the end of their terms. Legislators sent them off with floor speeches and a reception afterward, where even Gov. Bill Walker shared a story the first time he met Egan.

Both senators will be missed. Egan’s been one of the Legislature’s more colorful members, and Gardner has often served as the conscience of the Legislature and as an effective leader of the Senate minority.

Read more about the send-off in the Juneau Empire.

House continues oil taxes

The House Finance Committee held a night of invited testimony from the oil industry on its late-in-the-game oil tax bill, House Bill 411. As expected, the industry representatives bashed the proposal for all the reasons they bash other oil tax hikes: stability, investment and competition with other oil plays.

Still, the House is pushing ahead with the proposal that has next to no chance with the Senate or Gov. Bill Walker.

K-12 education funding advances

The House Finance Committee also advanced House Bill 339 on Wednesday night that would increase the base student allocation by $100. It would net schools some additional $25 million, according to a report by the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. It’s got big support from school districts, many of which are staring down potential cuts to teachers as they’re also putting together their budgets. Like most things, though, we don’t expect this to gain much traction in the Senate.

Senate operating budget

The operating budget is on the Senate floor today in third reading, which means barring anything substantial it should reach debate and a vote today. Based on previous years, the Senate will not go nearly as long as the House (which this year outdid itself with a grueling two-week debate) thanks in part to fewer members and a minority that’ll offer more focused amendments. Expect the PFD, public safety and education to be among the key amendments offered.

What will be interesting to see is what might happen with caucus-less Republican Sens. Shelley Hughes and Mike Shower. Hughes didn’t depart the majority until the final moments of last year’s budget process and Shower is new to the Legislature.

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