New Republican House Majority outlines its priorities, kind of

There’s been a lot of questions about the new House Majority, which formed on Wednesday in a deal between 19 of the chamber’s 21 Republicans and the four-member Bush Caucus. A day after the formation, and we got a little better clarity on where everyone will be sitting this session when they released their committee assignments but are still pretty foggy on just what the House Majority hopes to get done.

At their first news conference of the session, House Speaker Cathy Tilton said the majority is keen on “fiscal stability” for the state and bringing back respect to the chamber. That was about it.

Here’s the key takeaways from the news conference:

  • Asked what fiscal stability meant, Tilton said they were still working on just what that means in practice. She said the fiscal plan laid out by the working group last year—which essentially called for a little bit of everything (and was quickly abandoned when a little bit of everything included new revenue)—could be a good starting place, and mentioned a tighter spending cap.
  • On the dividend, Tilton said she’s still supports a full statutory PFD and was happy to see it in the governor’s proposed budget (which has a roughly $300 million deficit at this time). Interestingly, though, she also said they’re not planning to overdraw the Alaska Permanent Fund and talked about getting public buy-in on any potential changes to the dividen formula.
  • On education funding where there’s been a renewed push to increase K-12 funding through the base student allocation formula, Tilton said education is important and that they’re keen on making sure more money makes it into the classroom (a common line we’ve heard over the years) but that there’s more ways to go about that than just increasing K-12 funding. Mentioning the far-right think tank the Alaska Policy Forum, she said there are other ways to boost student performance.
  • On working with the Senate, Rules Chair Rep. Craig Johnson was blunt that they simply couldn’t be bothered. “I don’t plan on paying a lot of attention to what the Senate does.” The House will do whatever it thinks is best throughout session, he said, and get with the Senate at the end.
  • How with the priorities of the four Bush Caucus members be integrated into the budget? Rep. Neal Foster said it’s not about driving the ship but helping steer while raising concerns important to rural Alaska such as infrastructure, Power Cost Equalization and other issues. “There’s some sensitivity to that,” he said.
  • How’s the House Finance Committee going to work this year? It’s getting a similar treatment as the Senate where the responsibility of chair will be divided over three people—Reps. DeLena Johnson (R-Palmer), Bryce Edgmon (I-Dillingham) and Neal Foster (D-Nome)—with Johnson taking on the job of operating budget while Edgmon and Foster will figure out some division on the capital budget and running legislation.
  • Is there a binding caucus, a requirement that members vote for the budget and other issues? “We don’t have a binding caucus per se,” Tilton said but then went on to essentially describe a binding caucus with the expectation that members raise their concerns and make their negotiations on the budget ahead of the final vote. Don’t expect to sit on the sidelines all session, then complain about the budget at the last moment. If people don’t vote for the budget, she said, they’ll have to go get votes from the minority.
  • What about Reps. Louise Stutes and Dan Ortiz, who both expressed interest in joining the majority? Tilton pointed out that Ortiz has one of the minority’s spots on the House Finance Committee and Stutes is “where she’s at.” She said things could be reconsidered in the future, but it didn’t sound like a priority.
  • Asked about Rep. David Eastman already complaining about the Republican Majority’s actions, Tilton said basically that the majority is no longer interested in “purity tests.”  

Follow the thread: The House Majority’s first news conference

House Committee assignments

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The Committee on Committee report gave us our first 39-NEASTMAN (a joky reference about the way lone no votes by Eastman get registerd on the big board) of what will be many this year. He was upset that neither he nor Rep. Stutes had direct representation on the committee assignments, even though he ended up with a spot on the House Judiciary Committee despite having no right to a committee seat at all as a member without a caucus. Stutes in on Transportation and House Minority Leader Calvin Schrage also asked that she be added to Fisheries, which was accepted (Fisheries and all the other special committees have not technically been created, yet).

Follow the thread: The House floor session accepts the committee report.

Community & Regional Affairs

  • McCormick, Chair
  • McCabe, Vice Chair
  • McKay
  • Patkotak
  • Ruffridge
  • Himschoot
  • Mears

Education

  • Allard and Ruffridge, Co-chairs
  • Prax
  • McCormick
  • McKay
  • Himschoot
  • Story

Finance

  • D. Johnson, Edgmon, and Foster, Co-chairs
  • Coulombe
  • Cronk
  • Stapp
  • Tomaszewski
  • Galvin
  • Hannan
  • Josephson
  • Ortiz

Health & Social Services

  • Prax, Chair
  • McCormick
  • Ruffridge
  • Saddler
  • Sumner
  • Fields
  • Mina

Judiciary

  • Vance, Chair
  • Allard, Vice Chair
  • Carpenter
  • C. Johnson
  • Eastman
  • Gray
  • Groh

Labor & Commerce

  • Sumner, Chair
  • Prax
  • Ruffridge
  • Saddler
  • Wright
  • Carrick
  • Fields

Resources

  • McKay, Chair
  • McCabe
  • Patkotak
  • Rauscher
  • Saddler
  • Wright
  • Armstrong
  • Mears
  • Dibert

Rules

  • C. Johnson, Chair
  • Tilton, Vice Chair
  • Allard
  • Sumner
  • Shaw
  • Fields
  • Schrage

State Affairs

  • Shaw, Chair
  • Wright, Vice Chair
  • Carpenter
  • C. Johnson
  • Allard
  • Armstrong
  • Story

Transportation

  • McCabe, Chair
  • C. Johnson
  • McKay
  • Vance
  • Stutes
  • Mina
  • Gray

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