Summary: The House passed a budget without an appropriation for a PFD, and the bill now goes to the Senate. This year’s budget was passed in record time, but as many members of the House pointed out, is incomplete.
The House passes the HB 205, the operating budget for Fiscal Year 2021 by 23-16, but fails to pass a draw from the Constitutional Budget Reserve which requires a two-thirds vote of the House. That vote broke the same way 23-16.
The House will vote again on the CBR draw once the budget comes back from the Senate.
The current budget including state and federal funds is $9.8 billion, according to Rep. Neal Foster. In state dollars, the FY21 budget is $4.4 billion dollars, roughly equivalent to what the governor proposed in his budget in December.
“This budget does not fund sending prisoners out of state,” Foster says, as he highlights various aspects of the budget. Criminal prosecutors, Village Public Safety Officers, public radio and the Alaska Marine Highway System are just some of the items which have received funding he says.
Rep. Lance Pruitt thanks the leadership of the House Finance Committee for their leadership and addressing some of the issues of his caucus, but he says, we still haven’t settled on a PFD. This is the first step of many, he says, but he can’t support something that is incomplete.
Rep. Mark Neuman says he can’t vote for the budget because it doesn’t reduce state spending enough. Government is the problem, he says, and this budget does not reflect what Neuman’s constituents want. Industry will not invest in the state with the government creating so much controversy, he says.
We decided we want the PFD to be an appropriation, Rep. Ben Carpenter says, but we’ve left it out of the appropriating document. Carpenter says he can’t vote for something that’s incomplete.
Much of the discussion of Kopp’s amendment centered around bars and sporting events, but not other places on campus where people might need to protect themselves, Vance says, such as dance studios like her daughter uses or moving between classes.
Alaskans deserve the right to protect themselves everywhere, she says, but with Kopp’s amendment the original amendment serves little purpose and Vance chooses to withdraw her amendment.
Vance opposes Kopp’s amendment (to the amendment) saying that it would effectively nullify the original amendment. Vance says she wants to protect people’s right to defend themselves even on university property.
Josephson says that “our rights are not absolute,” and reads from an opinion from former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scallia in the District of Columbia v. Heller which which allowed gun possession in Washington D.C. which said laws can limit when, where and who can carry a gun.
The amendment passes 25-14.
The House takes an at ease before voting on the original amendment.
The last of the amendments for the day which is sponsored by most of the Republican House Minority says that no funds to the University of Alaska may be used to infringe on a person’s right to bear arms.
Kopp wants to add an amendment to the amendment which would allow for enforcement of existing state laws. State laws prohibit persons under 21 carrying concealed weapons on campus. Universities often host high school or other events for young people where state law prohibits possession of a firearm.
Brief at ease.
Prax also withdraws amendments 31-34.
Eastman has another, saying this amendment revisits items that were vetoed from last year’s budget. This amendment would cut funding for Alaska Legal Services, which provides free legal services to low income people.
Eastman says he offers this amendment not because he sees no value in the what Alaska Legal Services offers but because the state simply does not have the money.
Amendment fails 38-1.
Amendments 27-30 have been withdrawn by Prax, who said he hasn’t had enough time to discuss his amendments with fellow members.
House takes an at ease.
After a long at ease, Eastman introduces yet another amendment, this one to remove funds from the Alaska State Council for the Arts and use that money for the courts. Alaska’s courts are a constitutional requirement and are currently underfunded he says. We must open the courts to the people of Alaska, he says.
Josephson says the funding was not a request of the court system, and there are advantages to having courts close early on certain days because it allows staff to do reading and writing work without interruption.
Several members, both Republican and Democrat rise in opposition citing the importance of the arts. Vance pointed out that many federal grants for the arts come through the state Arts Council.
Carpenter has an amendment which would removing inflation proofing for the Permanent Fund. There is no need to inflation proof the permanent fund this year, Carpenter says, and this money could be used elsewhere.
Foster opposes saying inflation proofing is necessary to protect the future of the permanent fund.
Neuman says inflation proofing is not needed under the current economy.
Another “modest” decrease in community grants from Eastman. Johnston says this is similar to a previous amendment which failed, and these grants go to things like homeless shelters and recovery programs.
Rasmussen opposes as well, saying her constituents are willing to pay for programs that create safer communities.
The House’s newest member, Mike Prax, R-North Pole, says that while he supports helping the needy, in his experience there are a number of people out there who are “working the system,” meaning taking advantage of social programs.
Amendment fails, 37-2.
Another from Eastman saying departments cannot spend more than what is appropriated to them. State departments regularly come back saying they’ve spent more than what was appropriated.
Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, opposes the amendment saying departments are often instructed by the Governor to spend above the appropriations. He gives the example of the Alaska Marine Highway System where the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities was specially instructed to begin work on vessels without appropriation from the Legislature.
“As bad as the time frame has been, imagine how bad it would have been if they had to wait for us to pass the supplemental, which still has not passed both bodies,” Pruitt said.
Amendment fails, 38-1.
Eastman is back with an amendment to “modestly” decreasing community grant funding. Community grants are used for social services like homeless shelters Johnston says, urging a no vote.
Amendment fails, 2-37.
A full Permanent Fund Dividend Bill entered by a number of House Republican Minority members was tabled because of it’s similarity to Amendment 1, which failed earlier in the day.
Johnston’s Amendment 18 would transfer school grants for identifying learning disabilities from the Department of House and Social Services to the the Department of Education and Early Development. It’s adopted without objection.
We’re out of the Eastman amendments. Foster has an amendment for $67.9 million to the Permanent Fund, the money was supposed to used for royalty payments for post 1979 oil fields. That matter has been in the courts for some time but has not been ruled on. Foster says the Legislature should err on the side of caution. That amendment was adopted.
Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer, has an amendment would take all money not spent on state salaries at the end of the year, i.e. because of vacant positions, the funds be put back in the general fund for re-appropriation.
The amendment fails 15-24.
Amendment 14: University of Alaska “evaluate its admissions standards,” with the goal of having a 32.% graduation rate for for full-time baccalaureate degree over six years by 2026. The amendment would look at “admissions-related expenditures (to) support this target.”
The amendment would effectively raise UA’s admission standards.
Rep. Sara Rasmussen, R-Anchorage, says while scrutiny of the University is good, just looking at graduation rates was not the way to measure the effectiveness of the school. Many students start at UA and then transfer or follow other paths.
Amendment fails 37-1.
Lucky #13, legislature must see contracts that require legislative approval be presented to the legislature at least a week before the vote. Eastman says he has voted in the past on contracts which he had not yet seen.
Kopp says there’s nothing in the amendment that stops short of upending how the House does business. Contracts receive a lot of scrutiny from the Executive branch and legal services.
Eastman closes by saying lawmakers should have time to review contracts they are required to vote on.
Next up, Amendment 12, no appropriation which create an unfunded mandate.
Foster opposes and notes that the language of the amendment says no appropriation can create an unfunded mandate, but if there is an appropriation, there is funding.
The next from Eastman calls for state departments notifying the Legislature when it appears expenditures will exceed that departments fiscal note from the appropriation bill.
Foster raises in opposition saying the bill is too broad, and fails to define what “exceeds” means in this case. Foster asks if one dollar over budget is worthy of notification.
Eastman says his amendment is meant to send a signal to departments the Legislature does not want a lax approach to fiscal notes.
The amendment fails.
Eastman’s 10th amendment would limit state spending to twice the national average. Alaska’s state spending is currently three times the national average according to Eastman.
Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome, rises in opposition saying the amendment is essentially a spending cap. While he notes the amendment is an intent amendment but it still too broad and vague and would constrain state departments too much.
Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake, says the amendment is indeed intent language but it’s important for the state Legislature to send clear messages to Congress on what state lawmakers feel is best for Alaska.
The amendment fails.
Eastman has entered yet another amendment, his ninth today, which would make it so public employees do not have to join a private organization (a union) when they are first hired.
Rep. Jennifer Johnston, R-Anchorage calls Eastman’s next few amendments intent amendments, “or as I like to call them, talking-point amendments, press release amendments.”
The proposed amendments would increase the state’s spending by $5 billion dollars. Increasing state spending puts a target on the resource industry, she says, which the state relies on for much of its income.
The amendment fails.
Summary: Eastman was almost ejected from a House vote last week for similar behavior. But even with the delay the House is working on passing a budget as early as possible in the legislative session.
Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, stands to say the parliamentary maneuvering is wasting time and the House could have moved on by now.
“Rep. Carpenter, you couldn’t have articulate my thoughts better,” Edgmon said in reply.
Kopp again points to Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure to rule Eastman’s amendments as “dilatory” or specifically intended to delay the process.
The House votes 22-15 to table Eastman’s next four amendments. Edgmon puts the House at recess until 12:30 p.m.
Eastman says his amendments cannot be ruled out of order because they have not been read across the floor, and have not yet been made available to the public.
The House once again takes an at ease to discuss the details of the matter.
Rep. Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage, who is chairman of the House Rules Committee, asks House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, to rule Eastman’s next four amendments out of order on the grounds the House has already debated the issue at length. Eastman’s amendments have to do with PFD back pay.
The House takes an at ease.
The Alaska House of Representatives is debating extra money in the FY2021 budget and Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, has entered a number of amendments which would change appropriations already in the budget.
One of his bills would have included money to pay for an outside law firm to represent the state in a court case which is likely to go before the U.S. Supreme Court.
That amendment failed, as did an amendment which would prohibit the state from collecting dues on behalf of public sector unions.
Eastman is currently attempting to pass an amendment that would add 4-years back pay for previous years’ Permanent Fund Dividend, which also failed.