Care about the future of the PFD? The future of state services? The future of taxes? The future of the future? Then, it’s going to be important to be heard at a series of upcoming legislative hearings this week week as the Legislature’s Fiscal Plan Working Group hits the road heading into what may or may not be a consequential special session.
With the legislature set to go into its third special session of the year on Aug. 2 (at least that’s the current plan), the working group has scheduled public hearings in Anchorage, Wasilla, Fairbanks and Juneau (where call-ins will also be heard) to gauge public sentiment on the path ahead.
- Thursday, 6 p.m. — Anchorage LIO
- Friday, 6 p.m. — Mat-Su LIO in Wasilla
- Saturday, 1 p.m. — Fairbanks LIO
- Monday, Aug. 2, 6 p.m. — Senate Finance Room 532 in the Capitol, Juneau with call-in (586-9085 from Juneau, 563-9085 fromAnchorage and 844-586-9085 from anywhere else)
The Aug. 2 special session was announced by Gov. Mike Dunleavy earlier this year for legislators to work on a long-range fiscal plan. While the governor had hoped it would be a platform for legislators to send several constitutional amendments to the 2022 ballot—enshrining the PFD and making it more difficult to implement taxes—the Legislature is going to be facing more immediate problems when/if it gavels in next week.
Top on the list will be the complete lack of the dividend after Dunleavy vetoed the $1,100 PFD proposed by legislators—of which only $525 was funded in the budget that they sent him—and the fate of several other programs that are in uncertain waters thanks to a failed procedural vote.
Top among those programs is the Power Cost Equalization program that helps some 80,000 Alaskans with high energy costs in small, hard-to-serve communities. Under an expanded reading of the law (which is also currently being challenged in court), the Dunleavy administration decided to sweep the program’s $1 billion endowment into the state’s Constitutional Budget Reserve—which requires a supermajority vote to tap—thereby leaving the program with no operating funds. Without the program, some communities are expected to see their energy bills double.
[More: Read a useful explanation of the competing interests with this column from Cliff Groh]
Mustering the three-quarter votes to put those funds back will be the big task of the session, but given the asking price of several far-right Republicans—which has ranged from large PFDs to PFD payback to anti-abortion language and a slate of traction-less constitutional amendments—it may all prove to be too expensive, which could prompt alternatives such as funding things on a one-time basis. And that’s not to mention the lawsuit challenging the governor’s interpretation of the Power Cost Equalization program that’s currently set for oral arguments on Aug. 5.
Whether or not the Legislature ultimately has the energy and political capital to do anything more than address the fires currently before them, it’s less than likely that they’ll be able to do much more to address the state’s financial outlook with things like a change to the dividend formula, changes to big-ticket state services that are driven by formulas set in law—like K-12 funding or Medicaid—or any new revenue measures.
Please have the 50/50 split put into the constitution ! Thanks