Capitol Live: Senate passes 2021 budget bill, includes COVID-19 funding

Some lawmakers want to pass a budget and get out of town

Summary: The Senate passed a budget, now it’s up to the House. The budget contains emergency funding for a response to the COVID-19 crisis, as well as unlimited receipt authority for federal funds. If the House passes the budget, the Legislature may recess this week.

Vote passes unanimously.

3:22 p.m.

Now that the budget is passed, the Senate is voting on a resolution which would allow the Legislature to recess for a period of more than three days.

Legislative leadership is planning on coming back later in the year, perhaps the late summer or fall to take up business once again.

The resolution would only take place if there is a budget passed by both bodies, according to Sen. John Coghill, R-Fairbanks.

3:17 p.m.

The vote passes, 17-1, with only Reinbold voting against.

The CBR vote passes with the same votes, only Reinbold votin against.

3:16 p.m.

When we came to the floor today, the budget was roughly $11 billion, Reinbold says, and it’s only gotten bigger.

“I think it’s time to tighten belts,” she says, “I don’t see accountability in this budget and I don’t see any meaningful reductions.”

Reinbold says she’s leaning towards a ‘no’ vote.

“We can’t repeat what we did last year,” Stedman says, which was making reductions and “six months later, add them all back.”

3:10 p.m.

There are no more amendments to be added and the operating budget bill is now before the Senate.

The vote will need a three-quarter vote to draw from the Constitutional Budget Reserve, Stedman says.

The Senate Finance Committee had added a number of items in response to the COVID-19 crisis, according to Stedman and he reading off a long list of things covered in the budget.

The amended budget has not yet been posted to the Alaska Legislature’s website but should be soon.

2:50 p.m.

Von Imhof moves to rescind Amendment 6, Shower’s amendment which added a $1,000 PFD. The budget bill already included a PFD and removing the supplemental PFD would provide more stability to the budget, she said.

If the vote is rescinded, Reinbold says, the people’s PFD would be cut by two-thirds.

The vote to rescind fails, 10-8.

2:46 p.m.

Proponents of the amendment, Shower, Reinbold and Hughes, say the amendment is merely intent language and does not actually reduce any funding.

“Not one penny is affected by this,” Shower says. “They can ignore it.”

Amendment fails, 13-5.

2:33 p.m.

Stedman rises in opposition saying there is no need to do a 20% reduction.

“Clearly the benefit of taking $262 million serves no purpose,” he says. “We don’t know when we’re going to get back together, we don’t know how bad this crisis is going to get.”

The budget has given the administration unlimited receipt authority from the federal government, it wouldn’t make sense to restrict public health administrations in the time of global health crisis.

Stedman calls Shower’s plan “economic madness.”

2:29 p.m.

Shower is proposing an amendment which would restrict spending on appropriations made in the budget bill by 20% through the end of the calender year.

“What I’m trying to say is knowing we’re going through an economic crisis is to give intent language in from the Legislative branch we would like you (administrative departments) to restrict yourselves to 80%,” Shower says.

2:23 p.m.

When Giessel called the recess she said the Senate would reconvene at “precisely” 2:15, it’s now 2:23.

1:45 p.m.

The amendment for a $1,000 supplemental PFD passes, 12-7.

The Senate takes an at ease until 2:15 p.m.

1:31 p.m.

The amendment to the amendment fails, 2-17, with only Micciche and Kiehl voting in support.

They’re now back to Shower’s amendment, a $1,000 PFD.

If we don’t pass any stimulus measures, Wielechowski says, then people are really going to be hurting. He suggests send the bill over to the House and taking it to conference.

1:22 p.m.

Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, offers an amendment to Showers amendment which would pay out the fall PFD immediately.

1:15 p.m.

Shower introduces another amendment for a supplemental PFD, this time giving $1,000 instead of the $1,300 in the previous amendment.

“I am offering this as a Plan B,” Shower says.

Stedman rises in opposition saying there’s no question the people of the state are in need of assistance. The concern he has with putting that assistance in the PFD is the money will be going to a lot of people who don’t need it.

The state can use the money for housing assistance, hospital, food banks, he says.

“We have a limited amount of funds,” Stedman says, “we need to be targeted.”

He makes an analogy of shooting a flock of ducks as it passes and hoping to hit one.

1:08 a.m.

Vote fails, 15-4

1:06 a.m.

Several members have risen to announce potential conflicts of interest because they are members of unions themselves.

Kiehl says the matter is in court and the Legislature should not interfere as long as courts were deliberating.

12:58 p.m.

Reinbold is attempting to add an amendment that would “extend the benefits” of the U.S. Supreme Courts decision in Janus v AFSCME.

Last year Attorney General Kevin Clarkson issued an opinion the state was not in compliance with that decision. That was challenged by the unions in the state and the matter is still in the courts.

Reinbold says the amendment would honor the Supreme Court and protect public employees.

12:50 p.m.

Senate passes an amendment limiting how much the University of Alaska can charge for the Future Farmers of America program.

Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, adds an amendment for a full PFD but, that amendment fails, 12-7.

Two amendments from Shower were on the calendar but the senator was not in the room, so those amendments were delayed.

Wilson puts a call on the Senate and the body stands at ease until Shower can be located.

Things are getting a little tense. Sen. President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, is visibly annoyed.

12:39 p.m.

The vote fails, 10-9.

12:32 p.m.

Senate takes a brief at ease.

It looks like it’s going to be a close vote. Nine Senators have stood up to say they support the amendment, it needs ten to pass.

12:18 p.m.

Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, says there are things that the government does which are very important, road plowing, police and jails, ferries (he adds a bit sarcastically) and any number of other things.

“I’m not sure we get enough public health service,” Kiehl says.

The question is how do we (the state Legislature) best help, he asks. Based on the average Alaskan wage the supplemental would equate to about two weeks work.

“It’s the difference between a ripple in the water and a wave,” he said.

With this bill, bankrupt people will be bankrupt two weeks later than they would have been bankrupt without it.

12:03 p.m.

Hughes says she would like to rename the payment a COVID-19 relief check, because that is what she is standing up for. Keeping the money in the government will not stimulate the economy in the same ways dollars in the private sector would.

She makes an analogy of a grandparent tapping into their own retirement savings to help their children and grandchildren.

She suggests creating for decline options where wealthy people who are not in as much need which she believes they would use, because they understand the need.

11:53 a.m.

The check for the supplemental PFD will cost the state about $1 billion, Sen. Natasha Von Imhof, R-Anchorage, said. And it will go to everyone, regardless of income. A PFD would go to even wealthy people she says and she believes there are better ways to spend the money for the most economically vulnerable.

11:47 a.m.

This is a crisis with no end in sight, Wielechowski says, and a response from the federal government will take time. A response to the 2008 financial crisis took two months he said. Getting cash into the hands of Americans under the current circumstances is an idea embraced across the political spectrum.

11:40 a.m.

“We are killing (people’s) livelihood,” Shower said, referring to government mandates to close businesses. People need help right now and we can’t wait for help from the federal government.

11:37 a.m.

Within 20 minutes, the Senate had met, stood at ease, had a committee meeting, and are back on the floor. There’s an amendment being offered to the budget bill which would add a supplemental Permanent Fund Dividend urged by Gov. Mike Dunleavy last week.

The amendment calls for a $1,300 PFD and is sponsored by Sens. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, Donny Olsen, D-Golovin, Mike Shower, R-Wasilla and Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer.

Stedman rises in opposition arguing the amendment drains the state savings too much during a time of crisis. “We don’t know what’s coming in the fall…but it’s not going to be rosy,” he said.

11:22 a.m.

Almost as soon as it started, the Rules Committee adjourned having passed the resolution and will send it the House for concurrence. Senate is now delayed to the call of the chair but most Senators are waiting in the hall outside the Senate chambers.

11:16 a.m.

The Senate gaveled in and then almost immediately gaveled out so the Senate Rules Committee could meet to discuss Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s emergency declaration and a resolution which would allow the Legislature to recess for a period of more than three days.

11:14 a.m.

The Senate is meeting the discuss a budget bill for Fiscal Year 2021 drafted over the weekend. On Friday, Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, told reporters Senate leadership was hoping to pass a budget as soon as possible and end the session, at least for the time being.

But there’s a lot in this year’s budget which would normally be subject to long debate and revision and it’s not clear if the bill that’s been submitted will be able to get the votes it needs. Critically, the budget will need to draw from the Constitutional Budget Reserve.

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