Correction: A previous version of this article stated that an amendment would commit $750,000 to the Alaska Court System for more prosecutors and staff. The amendmentwas actually for $1,598,532. Half of that, $799,266, would go to the Department of Law, not the court system, to hire more prosecutors and staff. The other half would go to the Department of Administration/Public Defender Agency. The article has been changed to reflect that.
As members of the Alaska House of Representatives debated possible changes to their budget proposal, a topic they didn’t talk about all day hung over their heads.
Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon and House Finance Committee Co-Chair Neal Foster both said in interviews Wednesday that debate has gone fairly well so far but they’re waiting to see what happens when the House begins discussing the Permanent Fund Dividend.
As of 4 p.m. Wednesday, the PFD had not yet been brought up on the House floor, but the floor session continued into the evening.
Neither Gov. Mike Dunleavy nor the House Finance Committee included the PFD in their budget proposals, electing to deal with the two issues separately. Edgmon, an Independent from Dillingham, said it’s not clear yet whether budget discussions on the House floor will include talking about the PFD.
“We’re working our way through that at this point,” Edgmon said. “It’s a big issue. It’s a huge issue. We have people on both sides, on every side of the Permanent Fund Dividend issue possible. Some wanting a smaller, more sustainable PFD, some wanting a full PFD with larger budget cuts.”
Neither Edgmon nor Foster, a Democrat from Nome, ventured a guess on what kind of PFD amendments might be proposed.
The first two days of debates on the floor have yielded very few major changes to the budget. Multiple amendments approved Wednesday actually increased spending, including one from Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, that would add $1,598,532 to the budget. Half of that, $799,266, would go to the Department of Law to hire more prosecutors and support staff. The other half would go to the Department of Administration/Public Defender Agency.
House, governor get talking
House leaders met with the governor early Tuesday afternoon, and Edgmon said the meeting was cordial. Without getting into specifics of the meeting, Edgmon said House members are trying to get on the same page as the governor.
“We continue talking big picture stuff and what the governor’s expectations are from here on out,” Edgmon said, “and what we can do to sort of partner up to get the Legislature adjourned on time and if at all possible avoid a special session.”
Dunleavy was critical of the House on Tuesday, expressing his disappointment in the slow pace of the House’s progress and the fact that his crime bills and proposed constitutional amendments are not moving very quickly through committees.
One point of contention Dunleavy mentioned was that the House began its budget proposal not with his proposed budget but with the budget plan outlined last year by former Gov. Bill Walker. David Teal, the director of the nonpartisan Legislative Finance Division, said Wednesday that the House’s process is “absolutely standard practice” and that it would have been very strange to start with the governor’s proposed budget.
“Apparently, the governor believes the Legislature should have started with his bill,” Teal said via email. “That would have made identifying/debating changes more difficult. And, although one could argue that the destination would be the same regardless of the starting point, starting with the Governor’s bill would not have been a standard approach.”
Ferry system survives major cuts, for now
Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla, proposed a budget amendment Wednesday that would have cut the Alaska Marine Highway System’s funding from $129 million to $86 million, according to the figures in the amendment.
“Alaskans want a ferry system. I believe in the ferry system,” Sullivan-Leonard said. “Unfortunately what we have before us is a fiscal situation that does not support a transportation system that is reliant on a 200 percent subsidy.”
The amendment failed, being voted down 24-15.
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.