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With two days and change until a government shutdown, the Legislature has very little room for error this week as it works to secure the votes needed to keep state government open on July 1. All eyes are on the House, which fell four votes short of the supermajority vote that Gov. Mike Dunleavy—who’s breaking with precedent—says is needed to make the budget immediately effective. Though there’s a fast-tracked court case seeking to resolve the effective date issue set for oral arguments on Tuesday, no one’s willing to take chances here. It’s coming down to an agreement between the House Majority Coalition and a House Republican minority that may, or may not, know what it wants. We went into the weekend with news of a potential agreement taking shape between the two groups that would likely land with a non-binding agreement that sets the stage for the August special session on the state’s fiscal plan in return for the votes needed to keep government open and operating.
We still don’t know what the details of the plan may be.
There’s a few things to keep in mind with all of this. First, whatever agreement comes together is, at this late stage of the game, going to be non-binding. That means it’ll need some trust, which has been hard to come by in the House. Second, there’s not an insignificant number of members of the House Republican minority who’ve either sought to soften the blow of a shutdown or argued that shutting down government is, in fact, a reasonable move to get what they want (we’re still not entirely sure what that is). That group also happens to be the loudest and most bombastic, demanding most of the attention with their frequently ridiculous claims. Third, not everyone in the House Republican minority is Team Chaos, as much as it seems like they are. Just how that group works with Team Chaos, which is not likely to vote to keep government open anyways, in developing this non-binding agreement is going to be really interesting. Does the agreement try to appease everyone in the House Republican minority (a near-impossible task given some’s demand that the PFD be repaid in its entirety) or, instead, the handful of votes needed to keep government open?
The latter is, really, the only feasible path forward but it’d require the minority admitting that they’re on very different pages after largely trying to stick together despite the very different pages they’re on.
The House needs to improve its effective date margin by four votes. Anchorage Republican Rep. Sara Rasmussen appears to have committed to be one of those four, so they really need three additional votes from the House Republican minority. Still, I’m not entirely sure what it’ll take for three names on this board to switch from No to Yes.
We’ll find out sometime today. The House is set to return to session at 11 a.m. The House could settle things by taking up the already-passed operating budget for a revote on the effective date that would likely coincide with a Sense of the House that would outline whatever agreement there is. The Senate has already passed its effective date on the budget and wouldn’t have to do anything else unless the House opts for a more unusual (and time-intensive) solution to keeping government open.
What’s not happening: The $2,350 PFD that Gov. Mike Dunleavy put in his proposed budget fix for the special session is not happening. With less than three full days left until the government shutdown, it’s crystal clear that there was never the time for the Legislature to get it passed. Starting from square one, as Dunleavy has proposed, would have required committee work, time-intensive amendment sessions and to allow time for bill drafting.
It makes the whole political maneuvering here particularly bizarre. While the governor argued that it was the effective date that made the budget constitutionally “defective,” it’s remarkable that he sought to leverage it for more than $1.5 billion in additional spending from the Alaska Permanent Fund (which, by the sounds of it, may still not be enough for some far-right legislators to keep government open). That would’ve made it one of the costliest supermajority votes in Alaska history. And, heck, if the House doesn’t reach the votes needed to keep government open, it could still prove to be one of the costliest supermajority votes in Alaska history.
While far-right Republicans have tried to soften the blow of their shutdown, the impacts will be felt far and wide through the state. One of the biggest direct impacts will be on the state’s fisheries, which rely on the state managers to open for the narrow windows where they make most of their money for the summer fishing season. The DMV, park rangers, road projects and aid to the elderly and low-income Alaskans will also be paused. State employees represent about 8% of Alaska’s workforce and most will be out of work and without a paycheck if a shutdown does, in fact, come to pass.