Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, chair of the bicameral conference committee tasked with hammering out differences in the state’s budget bill, signs the committee report as members finished their work on Tuesday, May 17, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire

Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, chair of the bicameral conference committee tasked with hammering out differences in the state’s budget bill, signs the committee report as members finished their work on Tuesday, May 17, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire

Committee compromises on PFD in budget plan

Budget must be approved by full Legislature

For the second day running, the six-member bicameral conference committee continued negotiations on the state’s budget and Tuesday afternoon came to an agreement on an amount for the Permanent Fund Dividend.

Members of the conference committee agreed Tuesday to an amendment to the budget that would pay about $2,500 for this year’s dividend, with an additional $1,300 energy relief payment for a total of about $3,800.

The Senate appropriated $5,500, a combination of a statutory dividend of $4,200 and an energy relief check of $1,300, but several lawmakers called that amount irresponsible and a concurrence vote failed in the House of Representatives.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, a member of the conference committee who voted for the full dividend said he was supporting the lower amount in the spirit of compromise.

“I know many Alaskans would like to see a full PFD,” Wielechowski said. “This is 90% of a full PFD.”

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Committee members also split the fund sources for those two payments, with the dividend coming from the state’s general fund and half the $1,300 payment coming from the Constitutional Budget Reserve. In order to access the CBR, lawmakers need a three-quarter vote in both bodies, which is not a guarantee, particularly in the deeply divided House where the majority coalition has only 21 members.

The committee agreed to most of the Senate’s appropriations in the capital budget and moved quickly through hundreds of budget items. The committee approved several appropriations which only go into effect if related legislation is passed. The committee agreed to the Senate’s proposal to add $394 million to the state’s Higher Education Investment Fund, if House Bill 322, establishing the fund on its own, is passed.

The end of the legislative session is Wednesday, May 18, and both bodies of the Legislature must approve the committee changes if the budget is to be adopted. Only a simple majority vote in each body is needed to pass a conference committee budget.

The conference committee finalized the budget process shortly after 4 p.m. Tuesday, sending the bill to the Division of Legislative Finance and Legislative Legal Services for review and any technical changes. Once that process is complete, lawmakers will vote to move the bill which must then wait for 24 hours.

“We’ll be here until midnight, maybe later,” Stedman told reporters following the committee meeting. “Tomorrow midnight is the deadline. We have to pass a budget by midnight tomorrow, if it’s not passed we’ll have a special session, be here in June.”

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

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