House Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, told reporters on Friday, June 25, 2021, she was optimistic a deal with the House Minority caucus would be reached by Monday. Both Stutes and Minority Leader Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, declined to give details on the deal. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

House Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, told reporters on Friday, June 25, 2021, she was optimistic a deal with the House Minority caucus would be reached by Monday. Both Stutes and Minority Leader Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, declined to give details on the deal. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Lawmakers say deal seems close at hand

Lots of optimism but few details on deal

Lawmakers in the House of Representatives said they’re optimistic a resolution can be reached by Monday, but declined to elaborate on any details.

Speaking to reporters in the hallway after a brief floor session Friday, House Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, said she was working well with House Minority Leader Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, and she’s confident there will be a resolution to the effective date issue on Monday.

“I’m just going to tell you that we’re still fine-tuning everything, but I feel like we’ve come together and we’ve been working together quite well,” Stutes said.

During the Legislature’s first special session, the House failed to get the 27 votes necessary to pass the effective date of the state’s budget bill. That’s touched off a legal battle between Gov. Mike Dunleavy and legislative leadership over whether the bill can be signed. Without a budget in place, the threat of a partial government shutdown looms with the start of the state’s new fiscal year on July 1.

Both the House and Senate voted for the budget itself, but the effective date clause did not pass in the House. Dunleavy argues that without that vote the constitution says a bill’s effective date is 90 days from when it was passed, putting the budget’s date in September.

But lawmakers have cited their own constitutional article countering Dunleavy’s and say there’s decades of precedent that give a governor tools to avoid a shutdown. On Monday, Attorney General Treg Taylor filed a lawsuit against the Legislative Affairs Agency and asked an Anchorage Superior Court for an expedited decision.

An order released Tuesday said the court would release a decision no later than noon Wednesday, June 30, just 12 hours before the deadline for a government shutdown.

House Leadership and some senators have expressed frustration about not receiving a clear request from the House Minority, but Tilton said Friday her caucus had a firm request.

“I would agree I’m optimistic that we’ll see a resolution on Monday,” Tilton said. “It’s ongoing of course, we had an initial meeting and we’ll see what comes out of the initial meeting that we had with the four caucus leaders, but it was a positive meeting.”

The state’s fiscal year ends at midnight June 30, and local leaders, business leaders and state department heads have urged lawmakers to reach a resolution before then, avoiding a government shutdown.

But in the House’s brief floor session Friday some conservative lawmakers said the picture being painted of a government shutdown was misleading, and only coming from one point of view.

[Lawmakers urged to avoid shutdown but impasse remains]

“We had no opportunity for the public to paint a picture,” said Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, referring to a Thursday House Finance Committee meeting. Lawmakers heard testimony from professional groups and state agencies Thursday but not from individual residents. Carpenter said the majority caucus was using its position to overstate the impacts of a shutdown.

“We had no opportunity for the public to paint a picture,” Carpenter said. “It will not be a bus driven over a cliff.”

Lawmakers also heard Thursday from Office of Management and Budget officials who outlined the governor’s plan for emergency funding should a shutdown occur.

Certain state agencies and services such as the Alaska Marine Highway System would continue to operate under that plan. Other programs, such as several within the Department of Health and Social Services, would operate with reduced staffing in accordance with federal mandates, the plan says, but other services such as the Division of Motor Vehicles would close entirely.

There would indeed be negative effects, Carpenter said, but argued the effects are being overstated.

Tilton could not say Friday what an actual resolution would look like, saying there was discussion of a joint resolution with the Senate but discussions were currently focused on a Sense of the House vote. She declined to give details but said the deal could be understood as a loose plan for the August special session.

Minority members have complained their concerns aren’t being listened to in budget negotiations, and say tactics used in drafting the budget were coercive. The final budget bill was changed substantially in the bicameral conference committee which negotiated the final version of the budget and many conservative lawmakers balked at changes to fund sources.

The governor introduced a bill at the start of the special session that closely resembles the budget passed by the Senate last month but leadership in both bodies have shown no interest in forwarding it.

Stutes and Tilton said Friday negotiations were focused solely on a reconsideration vote for the budget bill and effective date clause. That still leaves the three-quarter vote necessary to reverse a sweep of state funds that occurs at the end of each fiscal year. That vote will have to wait until August, lawmakers have said, meaning several state programs including the Alaska Performance Scholarship will go unfunded until that happens.

Both bodies of the Legislature are scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday, June 28.

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

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