Members of a bicameral conference committee of lawmakers, seen here at their first meeting on Wednesday, May 26, 2021, met again Thursday to negotiate the final version of the state’s budget. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Members of a bicameral conference committee of lawmakers, seen here at their first meeting on Wednesday, May 26, 2021, met again Thursday to negotiate the final version of the state’s budget. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Budget committee adjourns until after holiday

Lawmakers: talks likely to take full special session

The legislative conference committee negotiating the final version of the state’s budget is set to meet again after the Memorial Day weekend after meeting for just under an hour Thursday morning. Because of the holiday, the next meeting is provisionally scheduled for Tuesday, June 2, according to committee chair Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome, but a time was not yet scheduled.

The meeting would likely take place in the late afternoon, Foster said at the meeting, to which Rep. Bart LeBon, R-Fairbanks, replied, “good.”

Thursday’s meeting was fairly brief and like the committee’s first meeting the day before, dealt with areas where there was more mutual agreement about funding levels. The committee approved most of the funding items put before it, but several items were left aside for further clarification and deliberation. Funding sources had changed for certain portions of the transportation budget, and Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, asked what those changes meant for the Alaska Marine Highway System. After an at ease, Olson removed his object and the item was approved.

[Budget negotiations begin, will likely continue into June]

At the beginning of the week committee members said they would work to finish before the admittedly unlikely goal of May 28, the Friday before Memorial Day weekend. But Foster told reporters Wednesday, negotiations would likely take until the end of the special session in mid-June.

Committee members are trying to pass an all-encompassing budget that contains not only the state’s operating and capital budgets but an appropriation for the Permanent Fund Dividend and a vote to reverse a state accounting mechanism. It’s the last two items that are the most divisive, but committee members say they haven’t reached the point where those topics are even being discussed.

Currently, the PFD is poised to be $2,300 — as OK’d by the Senate — an amount that would require the state to draw more than its statutory 5% of market value of the Earnings Reserve Account of the Alaska Permanent Fund, something several lawmakers strongly oppose. Furthermore, the vote for the “reverse sweep,” necessary to continue funding a number of critical programs, requires two-thirds of both bodies which no caucus in the Legislature has enough members to ensure that many votes

Negotiations can take time, Foster said Wednesday, comparing the process to trying to thread several needles at once.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

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