Another mistake? Dunleavy’s postponed special session doesn’t include this year’s PFD

Gov. Mike Dunleavy during a September 2020 town hall. (Photo by Governor's Office/Flickr)

Following the unanimous request from the Legislature’s leadership, Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced on Thursday night that he’s postponed the start of the fall special session by two weeks.

Initially intended to begin on Aug. 2 with an ambitious goal of passing a slate of constitutional amendments, considering new revenues and considering additional spending bills, the amended call now stakes out Aug. 16 as the start date. But the updated call is notable for another reason: As it currently stands, there’s no vehicle to pay out this year’s dividend or salvage the Power Cost Equalization program. 

The updated call for the special session only includes the following items for consideration: 

  • HJR6 or SJR5, proposing a strict spending limit to the Alaska Constitution
  • HJR 7 or SJR 6, proposing adding a guaranteed dividend and Power Cost Equalization program to the Alaska Constitution
  • An act or acts relating to new revenues.

There’s currently no appropriations measure included in the call, which would be the vehicle to restore the dividend that Dunleavy vetoed and any other vetoed funds as well as the several programs that are affected by the failure of the reverse sweep (Power Cost Equalization, college scholarships and dozens of others). The previous call had included a measure that would have dealt with expending federal pandemic relief funding as well as a proposed constitutional amendment that would make it near-impossible to enact taxes, but those measures have since been removed.

Under the Alaska Constitution’s rules for special sessions called by the governor, the Legislature’s work is limited only to what the governor has placed on the call. The Legislature cannot set or change the subjects of the special session, but the governor can amend the call during the session to add additional measures. 

Why it doesn’t matter that much

It’s likely that the governor would add an appropriations measure to the call eventually but postponing it may give him some leverage in terms of forcing the Legislature to focus in on his proposed changes to the Alaska Constitution—particularly constitutionalizing of the dividend—that have seemed to become his platform running into his 2022 re-election race (well, that along with a constitutional convention). 

The governor’s leverage over the Legislature has been shrinking and stands to shrink more. In a self-inflicted wound, the governor mistakenly failed to veto a $4 billion transfer from the Alaska Permanent Fund’s earnings reserve account to the constitutionally protected corpus of the account. And now, his prime remaining piece of leverage—the Power Cost Equalization program that is incredibly important to rural Legislators—could be taken off the table by a pending lawsuit that challenges the governor’s handling of the account. Oral arguments in that case are set to be heard next week.

It may also be a way to shift blame for the shrinking dividend to the Legislature (also to build the case for that constitutional convention), though it’ll be hard to overlook the fact that Dunleavy was the one who vetoed the dividend the Legislature sent him.

The special session call for Aug. 16

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