Senate President Cathy Giessel, left, listens to Senate leaders on the floor at the Alaska State Capitol on Wednesday, May 1, 2019. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Senate President Cathy Giessel, left, listens to Senate leaders on the floor at the Alaska State Capitol on Wednesday, May 1, 2019. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Capitol Live: Senate casts vote on budget proposal

Live updates from inside the Capitol.

4:55 p.m.

The final vote is 19-1 in favor of the budget. Kiehl is the only senator to vote against the budget, saying he’s concerned about many of the cuts and what he views as an unbalanced approach. It goes back to the House, still carrying the full, $3,000 PFD.

—Alex McCarthy

4:16 p.m.

Stedman goes on to say that with the operating budget, a full PFD and other state spending, the total budget is $6.3 billion, which is an increase of 13 percent from last year. That’s due in large part to the full PFD, he says.

— Alex McCarthy

4:13 p.m.

The Senate breezes through the rest of the amendments, most of which are withdrawn.

Stedman stands up to give a brief overview of the budget. He says this operating budget is $3.8 billion, which is a reduction of $175 million (4.3 percent). He says he isn’t sure but he believes it’s the biggest reduction in the operating budget in state history (if the budget goes through as is).

“My hat’s off to the entire Senate,” Stedman says.

— Alex McCarthy

3:52 p.m.

Birch’s amendment gets destroyed, 17-3. He, Kiehl and Sen. Natasha Von Imhof (co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee) were the only people to vote in favor.

— Alex McCarthy

3:44 p.m.

Wielechowski is not in favor. He makes that vehemently clear. We take a brief break. Senate Majority Leader Mia Costello moves quickly up to say something to Giessel, then walks over to speak with Birch. As they talk, Stedman goes up to Giessel and converses with her. Most people are remaining seated. Looks like they don’t expect this to last long.

— Alex McCarthy

3:35 p.m.

Here we go. Sen. Chris Birch, R-Anchorage, is proposing cutting the Permanent Fund Dividend from $3,000 to $1,200. He’s saying a full PFD this year would require taxes or would have to pull from savings.

“This a would put us on a more sustainable course,” he says.

— Alex McCarthy

3:20 p.m.

Believe it or not, that amendment got voted down. Six in favor, 14 against. Trying to find new ways to write 6-14.

— Alex McCarthy

3 p.m.

Wielechowski proposes an amendment that would put a cap on how much Alaska can pay in per-barrel oil credits to oil companies depending on the budget.

“It’s pretty creative,” Stedman says of the amendment. He says this would make Alaska’s oil tax system less stable.

— Alex McCarthy

2:37 p.m.

That amendment fails, 8-12. We move on to the 12th amendment of the day. Senate Minority running into a buzzsaw here today.

— Alex McCarthy

2:30 p.m.

Had to dip out for a while for another story that’s coming soon. Olson’s amendment was actually approved, so schools will get that $20 million a little sooner, if I understood it correctly.

Meanwhile, members of the Senate are debating making large reductions in the proposed cuts to the Alaska Marine Highway System. Kiehl is leading this effort as well. He’s been one of the most vocal people today, if not the most vocal. The amendment aims to increase winter service for the ferry system.

— Alex McCarthy

1:35 p.m.

Olson is proposing an amendment that would have the state immediately distribute money to school districts that was appropriated by the Legislature last year. There is currently a lawsuit going on about this, and Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, warns that the Legislature should not be meddling in an issue that is currently going through litigation.

That has spurred an at-ease and numerous conversations throughout the room.

— Alex McCarthy

1:24 p.m.

We’re back, folks. Kawasaki is up again, bringing the eighth amendment of the day to the floor. This would fund a grant coordinator position in the Department of Natural Resources. The employee is particularly focused on securing grants for trail preservation.

Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, rises and says DNR officials have told them that this position is not necessary.

The amendment is voted down, 6-14.

— Alex McCarthy

12:28 p.m.

That amendment passes unanimously. Now that the Senate finally has a little momentum and has approved an amendment, we’re taking a 45-minute lunch break.

“Compromise,” Kawasaki says to a staffer as he leaves the floor. “Compromise.”

While we’re on a break, here’s a picture of Senate President Cathy Giessel furrowing her brow:

Senate President Cathy Giessel listens to Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, speak on the floor at the Alaska State Capitol on Wednesday, May 1, 2019. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

Senate President Cathy Giessel listens to Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, speak on the floor at the Alaska State Capitol on Wednesday, May 1, 2019. (Alex McCarthy | Juneau Empire)

— Alex McCarthy

12:24 p.m.

Sounds like we’re finally going to see an amendment approved. During an at-ease, Kawasaki gets together with Stedman (the co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee) and Sen. Bill Wielechowski (the most vocal Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee) and talks it out. Kawasaki withdraws his amendment, paving the way for Wielechowski to present the seventh amendment, which basically replaces Kawasaki’s.

Instead of $4 million, this will add $800,000 to the Senior Benefits Program. It’s not everything that Kawasaki wanted, but it’s a small win for him and his fellow Democrats … if it passes. We’ll have discussion here in a moment, but it looks like this will go through. Stedman was meeting with Majority Leader Mia Costello during the break, suggesting he was working to get support here.

— Alex McCarthy

12:15 p.m.

Begich brings another amendment to try and keep Pioneer Home rates from increasing, except to adjust for the rate of inflation. That amendment is voted down — wait for it — by a 6-14 vote.

We forge ahead. Sen. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks, presents an amendment that would add about $4 million to the Senior Benefits Program budget.

— Alex McCarthy

11:55 p.m.

I was away from the computer, taking photos for a while. Kiehl’s amendment was voted down, 6-14. All of these votes are along caucus lines, and there’s been very little drama so far.

The fourth amendment to hit the floor is one from Begich, who seeks to replace an economist position in the state. Debate over that one is quick, and it’s voted down by a 6-14 tally.

— Alex McCarthy

11:23 a.m.

Kiehl is up again, speaking for an amendment that would give more than $700,000 to prosecutors and courts. A heavy crime focus early on today.

— Alex McCarthy

11:22 a.m.

Different vote, same result. By a tally of 6-14, Olson’s amendment fails.

— Alex McCarthy

11:18 a.m.

Wrapping up the argument on his amendment, Olson sums up today’s entire discussion pretty succinctly: “In order to take something seriously, you’ve got to have some money behind it.”

— Alex McCarthy

11:11 a.m.

Another exchange between staffers outside the chambers:

“Pins and needles, pins and needles.”

“Pacing is the right thing to do, right?”

“Or eat.”

— Alex McCarthy

11:07 a.m.

Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, proposes an amendment to preserve some of the funding to the Village Public Safety Officer program that the governor cut and the Senate Finance Committee approved.

11:04 a.m.

You’ll be able to see the action on the floor if you’re watching Gavel to Gavel, but there’s actually a great deal of excitement in the hallway outside the chambers. People are constantly running back and forth, passing freshly-printed papers around as the amendments are introduced. The sound of loafers thumping on carpeting sometimes drown out the audio feed from the floor.

A couple of staffers, listening along outside, were making predictions about how the vote on Kiehl’s amendment would go. One of them got it on the nose, 6-14.

— Alex McCarthy

11 a.m.

Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, rises in opposition to the amendment, saying there’s already funding available for the Department of Public Safety for child crimes. Sen. Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, rises in support and says this measure would be proactive instead of being reactive, and that he’d like to see the state commit funds now instead of waiting until there are more victims.

That amendment fails, by a vote of 6-14.

— Alex McCarthy

10:52 a.m.

Juneau’s Sen. Jesse Kiehl proposes the first amendment of the day. He’s looking to add $425,000 to the budget for law enforcement agencies for cracking down harder on child sex crimes, including child pornography.

— Alex McCarthy

10:42 a.m.

All 20 senators are in attendance today.

— Alex McCarthy

10:22 a.m.

Nearly an hour and a half late, the Senate is poised to get started soon. We’ve been issued about a 15-minute warning for them taking the floor. It will be a little bit until they talk about anything of substance, as they’ll do their ceremonial introductions and they’ll welcome guests in the gallery. But we should be getting into the nitty-gritty around 11.

— Alex McCarthy

9:22 a.m.

Most eyes are on the Senate floor today, where senators will debate the budget. That should be starting here in a few minutes.

Read more about the current Senate situation here.

— Alex McCarthy

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