We’re into the seventh week of the legislative session and the operating budget is headed to the House floor, which generally marks the roughly halfway point of the session’s work. It’s gonna get busy, so this post is intended to clear out the odds and ends out of the notebook.
The operating budget
The operating budget hits the House floor today, which means we’re in for a late-night slog sometime this week. The budget proposes $3.8 billion in undesignated general fund spending on agency operations, which comes in $7.2 million above Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed flatline budget.
In the last week, the House Finance Committee opposed plenty of Democrat-favored spending like $10 million for the University of Alaska, $4.3 million for pre-k grants and $700,000 for public broadcasting. It did, though, have the stomach for about $12.1 million in additional spending for the state prison system (it cut $16.7 million from the budget but that’s because a similar pot of money was already appropriated in the current year’s budget).
The budget, as was done last year, doesn’t include a dividend.
As the budget heads to the floor, there’s increasing attention to the overall stalemate over the question of the dividend and new revenue. Anchorage Daily News’ James Brooks has an excellent write up on the situation here: As budget debates begin in earnest, Alaska’s Legislature and governor are struggling to make cuts. And there’s little talk of new revenue.
The main takeaway is there’s not really an appetite for anything in the Legislature: No desire to pay out a big dividend, make big cuts (they just approved nearly $300 million to make up for the holes in the current year’s budget) or pass any big changes to revenue.
Still, there’s some nibbling around the edges. While the House gets underway with the operating budget, the Senate will see the motor fuel tax hit the floor today. And there’s lottery proposals also floating around.
Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks, did introduce a PFD bill in House Bill 300 ahead of the personal legislation deadline. It would allocate the annual draw from the permanent fund as follows: 40 percent for K-12 (which would intend to fully fund it), 10 percent would go to the University of Alaska, 10 percent would go to capital projects, 10 percent would go to local communities. The remaining funds would be split between the PFD and the general fund.
Oil tax initiative cleared
The Division of Elections has officially cleared the Fair Share Act to appear on this year’s ballot, finding that it reached the necessary signatures. It follows the Legislative Council’s hearing on the initiative where Republican legislators blasted the initiative as unclear and punitive for business.
Senate Finance Committee co-chair Sen. Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage, was particularly negative about the bill, calling its provisions calling for increased transparency “despicable.” The main takeaway, and one that you can be sure will show up later this year in the campaign, is that the initiative is HIGHLY confusing and potentially goes way farther than expected.
The Senate Finance Committee is holding another hearing this morning with oil and gas consultants, so expect more of this.
Last Monday was the deadline for personal legislation and we saw a flurry of anti-abortion measures filed. It’s been somewhat quiet when it comes to abortion in recent years but new efforts are attempting to reignite it with the pending election year. Here’s a few stories about the issue:
- The week started with a flurry of Republican-sponsored anti-abortion bills, via Juneau Empire: House Republicans introduce wave of anti-abortion bills before filing deadlines
- Planned Parenthood’s advocacy arm released polling numbers from Alaska showing anti-abortion isn’t nearly as popular as some may think: POLL: Majority of Alaskans oppose abortion ban
- The Senate Health and Social Services Committee heard testimony on an proposed constitutional amendment that would delete the right to abortion from the state’s privacy clause. It got emotional, via the Juneau Empire: Testimony gets emotional on proposed abortion amendment
- And what’s driving all of this? Republicans are feeling the fire from the far-right, particularly from a group aligned with Rep. David Eastman. The issues boiled over during a vote on the supplemental budget. We recapped them in a lengthy write-up in Saturday in the Sun: Saturday in the Sun (Feb. 29): The ‘David, get out of here!’ edition
Last week, Reps. Zack Fields and Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins penned a letter to Attorney General Kevin Clarkson requesting he appoint an independent counsel “to ensure the investigation is impartial” as part of the administration’s promise to look into the no-bid, sole-source contract awarded to grandson of a key Dunleavy donor. The $441,000 four-year contract with Clark Penney, grandson of Bob Penney,
At a press conference the week before, Dunleavy lashed out at Fields and Kreiss-Tomkins for even questioning the contract in the first place. He said “they really need to take a look at their own actions,” listing off several things that the entire Legislature on a widely bipartisan basis in the past year.
Dunleavy ultimately conceded, though, that his administration would be reviewing the contract
“To answer your question, we’re looking into all of the details surrounding that contract and other contracts and once we are finished with our deep dive, we will come out and will have a presser on it,” he said.
The Department of Law confirmed that they were investigating it internally but had not committed to appointing an independent counsel—which has been done as recently as 2018 when the state appointed an independent law firm to investigate the working conditions at the Alaska Psychiatric Institute. The legislators, as of this morning, have yet to receive a response.
That’s how much the state will spend to contract with Allen Marine to makeup for the extended breakdown of the state ferry system’s breakdown, according to the Anchorage Daily News. The sailings on tourism boats began on Saturday and will run through Tuesday with service to Juneau, Kake, Angoon and Tenakee.
Passengers were limited to 80 pounds of luggage per person.
The complete loss of service began with the breakdown of the M/V Matanuska in January, which is expected to be out of service through April. Mainline sailings are expected to resume to some degree this week with the return of the M/V Tazlina.