Welcome to the latest edition of our weekly column attempting to catch up and break down the political news of the week… which I think would cover more than amendments but with us all being in what is the fourth amendment-heavy legislative days I’m not so sure. Anyways, take everything with a grain of salt as prognosticating on politics is best treated as a recreational activity.
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The Budget and the PFD
The Senate’s seven-and-a-half-hour floor session to get through the amendments on the disaster declaration bill this Wednesday looked like child play compared to the nearly 13 hours it took for the House Finance Committee to get through amendments to the operating budget on Thursday. Starting at 9 a.m., the committee finally wrapped up right before 10 p.m. after working through dozens of amendments that ranged from minor budget changes to paradigm-shifting proposals. The debate frequently neared vintage House Judiciary Committee levels of getting wrapped around the axle, but in all it was an interesting dive into some of the big questions facing the state’s budget and showcased just how limited the budget is as a tool for addressing the state’s structural budget deficit.
Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Kenai, led the charge on some of the biggest amendments like one to swap in a massive amount of American Rescue Plan Act money and another that’d fund the state’s endowment-driven* programs like Power Cost Equalization, college scholarships, WWAMI and others out of the general fund in order to sweep all the endowments* into the Constitutional Budget Reserve (*They’re not really endowments, but it’s just the easiest way to explain the semi-dedicated funding for the programs). Both failed, with everyone else calling them, politely, interesting ideas that needed more consideration. Apparently over hollering about how the Legislature’s health precautions are like the Holocaust, Carpenter seems to have settled in on the “We need to do something about this dang fiscal problem and quick!” On its own, it’s a worthwhile position, but we can’t help but notice that a lot of his amendments would heap the cuts onto rural Alaska communities.
Anyways, the most interesting/important votes of the night were on the dividend. As it stands, the budget doesn’t currently contain a dividend of any size and leadership says they want to save that for a separate bill. Of course, that doesn’t stop anyone from offering amendments on the dividend, which is what Rep. DeLena Johnson, R-Palmer, did. She offered two amendments that both sought to pay out a statutory PFD, one fully funded with an overdraw from the Alaska Permanent Fund and another funded with a mix between an overdraw and general fund dollars freed up by the American Rescue Plan Act cash.
Both failed by wide margins in what are just the first of what will be many attempted votes on the divided. It also wasn’t particularly close, failing on an 8N-3Y margin. Reps. Sara Rasmussen, Steve Thompson, Bart LeBon, Andy Josephson, Dan Ortiz, Kelly Merrick, Adam Wool and Bryce Edgmon voted against the amendments. Reps. DeLena Johnson, Ben Carpenter and Neal Foster voted in favor. The reasons aren’t universal and the different points does a good job at drawing the ideological battle lines:
- There’s the anti-income-tax crowd, represented by Rep. Sara Rasmussen (a line we’ve frequently seen from Anchorage Republicans): “With no mechanism in place to really guide the Legislature to actually make the tough decisions we’ve faced during the last several years during my time down here and with no measure in place to assure my constituents that I’m not going to ask them for an income tax to pay for a larger dividend I’m not comfortable voting on this measure and will be opposing it.”
- There’s the stick-to-the-rules crowd, represented by Rep. Adam Wool (a line we’ve seen among more of the moderates): “If you’re going to break the piggy bank, what’s to stop you from going there for more nickels later? I don’t want to overdraw, not for the PFD, not really for anything. … I want to keep (the draw from the Alaska Permanent Fund) at 5%. That’s the rule of sovereign wealth funds and I want to stick to the rules. I’m going to vote no on any overdraw that comes before me.”
- There’s the overspending-will-lead-to-deep-cuts-to-things-we-care-about crowd, represented by Rep. Bryce Edgmon (a position favored by the more progressive crowd): “A full PFD comes with tradeoffs. If I were to go promising them a full PFD and no cuts to schools, public safety, transportation and VPSOs and PCE, I think a lot of my constituents would laugh and say I don’t trust you. … I’m gonna be darned if I’m going to start cutting schoolteachers and others down the road and not have a balanced approach where we have a sustainable PFD. It’s very important to our villages but at the same time schools, PCE and all the other things are critically important as well.”
- On the pro-PFD side of things, there’s the it’s-a-one-time-thing-and-it’s-fine-because-the-fund-did-well-this-year-and-also-why-is-the-dividend-always-the-target? crowd in Rep. DeLena Johnson: “The overdraw could be for any number of things. It just happens to be that we’ve decided to make the PFD the caboose on the the train and so therefore it appears to be the last one drawing the last overdrawn dollar.”
- And there’s PFD-cuts-are-essentially-taxes-for-those-who-rely-on-the-dividend-the-most crowd represented by Rep. Neal Foster: “Folks who earn lower incomes rely on the PFD to pay for things like food and heating oil and electricity. We’ve tried to spread the burden of this fiscal issue that we have but at this point we’ve spent the last few years putting it on the folks who are lower income. For me, I just can’t keep doing that to folks who have to bear this burden.”
While the vote in the House Finance Committee was an overwhelming 8N-3Y vote, that doesn’t mean it’ll be the same when the operating budget reaches the House floor. The last election has seen things shift a bit in favor of larger dividend payouts so I wouldn’t write it off at this point.
The House is set to work on the budget through this weekend and the Senate Finance Committee has scheduled the bill through next week.
Speaking of a separate dividend bill, $500 is the PFD amount proposed by the House Ways and Means’ Committee HB197. The measure was introduced today and would cost the state about $350 million, which is about where a dividend would need to land to avoid dipping into the earnings reserve.
With the operating budget on the House floor today, an amendment to pay a full PFD to the tune of a $2.02 billion overdraw from the Alaska Permanent Fund failed 20-20.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy today signed House Bill 76, the covid-19 disaster declaration extension bill, and did what pretty much everyone expected. He immediately ended the disaster declaration in favor of a Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Adam Crum-driven public health order as allowed under the “Disaster Declaration Lite” part of the bill that allows for vaccine distribution, testing, limited responses and receipt of federal funding. In case you had any question about the state of the pandemic, here’s the mask-free bill signing:
The House Coalition was, as everyone might expect, as disappointed by the governor’s action as they were not invited to the signing.
“The House Coalition worked collaboratively with frontline health workers, hospital leaders, and business owners to provide practical tools needed to end the pandemic,” House Speaker Louise Stutes said in a prepared statement. “Unfortunately, the governor opted for politics over policy and decided to gamble with the health of Alaskans and with our economic recovery.”
IF there was a pandemic
“This pandemic, if there was a pandemic, was over last summer,” said Dave Bronson in the most notable clip of Wednesday night’s mayoral debate with Forrest Dunbar hosted by KTUU. It pretty much sums up the entirety of the Bronson campaign, which has leaned on far-right outrage over just about everything in the best approximation of a Trump-style campaign just with more glowering (Guess they skipped that part of political science where they covered the Nixon v. JFK debates).
“Since the end of last summer more than 300,000 Americans, and more than 200 Alaskans, have died from COVID-19,” Dunbar said in a rebuttal statement the following day. “The suggestion that the pandemic did or does not exist is insulting to the family members of those who have lost their lives, health care workers and first responders who are still fighting to keep the Municipality safe, and the Anchorage community who collectively sacrificed over the past year to prevent greater loss of life. Dave Bronson’s COVID-19 denial, and deliberate and ongoing promotion of dangerous misinformation, present a massive step backward from the progress our community has made toward beating this virus.”
Bronson’s cruel-on-the-homeless platform is also worth noting. Here’s a good thread breaking some of that down:
New APOC complaint, who dis
Forrest Dunbar’s campaign is heading back to the Alaska Public Offices Commission with another complaint targeting newly formed independent expenditure group Alaskans for Change, charging the group was campaigning without registering with APOC. The group is chaired by William Yung and Thomas Drake is the treasurer. The pair are execs at the Columbia Sussex Corporation, which is in the hotel business (and several of the Anchorage-area hotels that have had the long-standing battle with Unite HERE). Here’s the meat of the complaint:
The last significant endorsement of real interest in the Anchorage mayoral race is moderate conservative Bill Evans. While the other leading candidates have lined up with their side, Evans has stayed out of the fight so far, but three of his campaign staffers—Paxson Woelber, Rachel Kallander and Ross Johnston—have endorsed Dunbar.
All’s Well That Ends Well
That’s the Shakespeare play referenced by Rep. David Eastman while making the case that it shouldn’t count as rape by fraud if you trick your spouse into having sex with you. Yep. That was the frankly bizarre debate we had to hear during this week’s House State Affairs hearing on House Bill 5 by Rep. Geran Tarr, which seeks to update the state’s rape and sexual assault laws adding, among many things, a new class of rape called “rape by fraud” where consent is obtained through fraud, such as literally tricking someone into thinking you’re someone else.
Eastman’s amendment would have made marriage a defense against this, literally arguing that he didn’t want to see someone forever penalized by, and I’m not making this up, an elaborate plot where a spouse would swap in with a paramour to catch their spouse cheating on them. “If the spouse is thinking that their partner is having an affair and as part of catching their partner in the act, they switch places so the spouse thinks they are the person they’re having an affair with,” he claimed after asked to come up with any feasible case where this defense would come into play. “It’s happened before.”
It was truly bizarre, and Deputy Attorney General John Skidmore had to go to pretty great lengths to imagine the “Mission Impossible” scenario where someone would be tricking their spouse. He noted that not only has such a thing never come across his radar ever before but that such a case would stretch believability. He boiled it down to a simple policy question:
“Why would you be interested in passing a law that protects an individual who can only have sexual relations with another person by tricking them?” he said. “What has happened in that marriage or circumstance that has led to that requirement? That the person wouldn’t have agreed to have sex with their spouse but only with a third person and therefore we want to protect the spouse under those circumstances? I’m having difficulty understanding that concept, but I’ll leave it to you all to make that policy call.”
The amendment failed on a 6-1 vote. Eastman being the lone supporter.
Handing over the keys
Speaking of Capitol Insurrection attendees, the FBI apparently raided the home of a couple who, like Eastman, attended the Capitol riots but, like Eastman, say they didn’t go inside the Capitol. The stories, at this point, are really just taking the couple’s word about the whole thing but, to be fair, the woman doesn’t really look a heckuva a lot like the woman in the photos going around. The whole thing is bizarre, but this line from the MRA account was particularly bewildering:
“Marilyn said the FBI now has her laptop, phone and and she gave them all codes so they could get into her electronics, because she hopes it will hasten the time it takes to get them back.”
When all the pro-cop rhetoric has you literally giving the cops the keys:
With that, have a nice weekend, y’all! And don’t do anything that will get you a visit from the feds but if you do, don’t volunteer the keys.