Sens. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, center, and Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, right, put questions to Office of Management and Budget Director Neil Steininger during a meeting of the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021. The Legislature’s third special session of the year is dealing mostly with budget issues despite having been called to bring resolution to the state’s fiscal deficit. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Sens. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, center, and Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, right, put questions to Office of Management and Budget Director Neil Steininger during a meeting of the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021. The Legislature’s third special session of the year is dealing mostly with budget issues despite having been called to bring resolution to the state’s fiscal deficit. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Governor adds amendments to budget bill

Unfinished budget business drives special session

With just a week left in the summer’s third special session, members of the Senate Finance Committee heard 34 amendments from Gov. Mike Dunleavy to be added to an appropriations bill currently working its way through the Legislature.

Office of Management and Budget Director Neil Steininger walked committee members through the list of amendments that included $1.5 million for the Department of Corrections for DNA collection, federal health and economic development grants and previously negotiated cost-of-living adjustments for certain state employees.

In one amendment Gov. Mike Dunleavy reversed his own veto of $1.25 million for public health nursing. Steininger said the recent uptick in COVID-19 cases prompted the administration to make the change.

“We do continue to look and discuss on a daily basis if (the Department of Health and Social Services) has the resources it needs,” Steininger said. “If we felt that was not the case, we would come back to this body, but we feel they have the resources to get them through the next session.”

[House passes budget bill, calls for $1,100 PFD]

After multiple fractious floor sessions, members of the Alaska House of Representatives sent House Bill 3003 to the Senate. The bill is aimed at finalizing the state’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget. Completing the budget has long been a bipartisan priority for some lawmakers but to some Republicans, the appropriations bill is a distraction from this session’s intended purpose.

During floor debate on the bill, members of the House minority caucus complained legislative leadership was prioritizing the budget bill at the expense of finding long-term fiscal solutions.

On Tuesday, Senate Democrats announced two pieces of legislation aimed at increasing revenue by increasing the state’s motor fuel tax and decreasing oil tax credits.

In order to fully fund the budget, the Legislature will have to reach a three-quarter vote to access funds in the Constitutional Budget Reserve.

The current special session ends Sept. 15, and Monday, Sept. 6, is Labor Day, a federal holiday, but several lawmakers and the governor have floated the idea of a fourth special session.

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

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