The remainder of the special session will take place in Juneau, Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced in a press release Wednesday.
In an amendment to the original proclamation for a special session, Dunleavy said that from Wednesday onward, the legislature will meet in Juneau.
Dunleavy also expanded the scope of the special session to cover the capital budget and funding for state programs.
The majority of the legislature has been meeting in Juneau already, but after they failed to override Dunleavy’s vetoes to the state budget, many legislators left the capital and have been taking meetings elsewhere in the state.
The legislature had been split following Dunleavy’s initial proclamation which set Wasilla as the location for the special session. Legislators disagreed on where authority lays with regard to setting a location for the legislator. About a third of the legislature meet in Wasilla while the majority met in Juneau. Neither side had enough votes to take any meaningful action, and lawsuits have been filed on both sides.
While the legislators in Wasilla were able to avoid joining the majority of the legislature during the vote to override Dunleavy’s vetoes, the legislature still has not appropriated funds for the Permanent Fund Dividend, a top priority for the governor and his supporters.
Dunleavy has promised a $3,000 PFD as well as back pay for previous years while many in the legislature are supporting House Bill 2001, which would restore funding to a number of the programs facing cuts but allocate a diminished PFD.
HB 2001 is currently still being reviewed by the both Senate and House Finance Committees, both of which have meetings scheduled for Thursday.
The House Finance Committee has been hearing public comment for five hours a day Monday through Wednesday this week, with emotional testimonies from the public both for and against the bill’s passage.
While HB 2001 works its way through the legislature, Dunleavy will introduce a capital budget that will contain matching funds necessary to receive federal money for transportation projects, according to a press release from the governor’s office.
In addition to matching funds for transportation the governor’s budget will contain, “state matching funds for village safe water projects, funding for the new crime legislation (HB 49), and other necessary fixes to a number of fund source changes that appeared in the final version of the capital budget passed by the Legislature in May,” according to the press release.
HB 2001 would take money from the Permanent Fund in order to pay for state programs. However, in order to maintain a balanced budget that would mean less money paid out in this year’s dividend. When the bill was introduced it delivered a PFD of $1,600, but an amendment on Monday lowered that amount to $929.
HB 2001 also contains provisions for a “reverse sweep,” or the restoration of funds to state accounts which are automatically emptied, or swept, into the Constitutional Budget Reserve at the end of each fiscal year on June 30.
Normally the legislature would vote to restore those funds in its capital budget. But as the legislature was not able to pass a budget before June 30, several accounts have been emptied and not yet restored.
Some of those accounts cover programs like the Power Cost Equalization benefits which provide subsidies to rural communities for energy costs. Without the PCE many rural communities could face much higher energy bills, particularly in the winter.
Other programs include the Higher Education Investment Fund which awards the Alaska Performance Scholarship,which gives students money to attend college in the state. Some recipients of the APS have been uncertain if they will have the money needed to finish their education.
Uncertainty over funding has hung over a number of state programs in the past weeks. On Monday, the University of Alaska Board of Regents delayed declaring financial exigency in hopes that a certain amount of funding could be restored by HB 2001 or other legislation.
With the entire legislature coming together, final capital and operating budgets may be within reach.
“Timelines compel us to find a solution sooner rather than later,” Dunleavy said in a press release. “Concluding work on the state infrastructure budget and the PFD brings the Legislature one step closer to finishing the work of the people.”
Legislative leaders had been meeting with the governor over the past several days and it became clear that a divided legislature was no longer tenable.
Gov. Dunleavy moved the legislature to Juneau, “no strings attached,” Senate Minority Leader Tom, Begich said. Begich said that all sides had shown a willingness to negotiate. “There’s a lot of pressure to not lose those federal matching funds,” he said.
When asked about how the governor was responding to HB 2001 and its attempt to restore funding cut by his vetoes, Begich told the Empire, “There’s certainly some flexibility,” but “I can’t say he was overly enthusiastic.”
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org