Sens. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, left, and Robert Myers, R-North Pole, read through one of 41 amendments submitted to the state’s omnibus budget bill being debate on the floor of the Alaska State Senate on Monday, May 9, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Sens. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, left, and Robert Myers, R-North Pole, read through one of 41 amendments submitted to the state’s omnibus budget bill being debate on the floor of the Alaska State Senate on Monday, May 9, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Senate goes big on PFD in budget debate

Large dividends and energy payments fill out budget

The Alaska State Senate spent all day in floor session Monday, working through 41 amendments to a budget bill for the state that lawmakers hope to have passed by the May 18 end of the legislative session.

The bill will eventually be negotiated in a bicameral committee, with the final product voted on by both chambers of the Legislature. On the floor Monday, Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, told senators the bill was being engrossed, which allowed a version to be sent to the House for the purposes of tracking changes to the bill.

In a close 10-9 vote, Senators voted to pay a Permanent Fund Dividend based on the state’s existing statutory formula, about $4,300, something the state hasn’t done since 2016. However, that amendment was found to have a technical error and was tabled until Legislative Legal Services could fix the problem.

Voting in favor of the statutory dividend were Sens. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage; Roger Holland, R-Anchorage; Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer; Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks; Robert Myers, R-North Pole; Donny Olson, D-Golovin; Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River; Mike Shower, R-Wasilla; Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage; and David Wilson, R-Wasilla.

“As long as the formula’s in statute, I’m going to vote for it,” said Wielechowski, who sued the state in 2015 when it diverted from the formula for the first time.

Shower, who introduced the amendment, said he expected the amount to be rejected in negotiations with the House of Representatives, but his intention was to secure as large a dividend as possible by negotiating down from the statutory formula.

[Revak runs to replace Rep. Young]

Senators also passed an amendment from Wilson that diverted $840 million appropriated by the House to forward fund education for two years, and instead pay an energy relief check of $1,30o to each qualified Alaskan.

The plan is similar to one proposed by the House Majority Coalition, but the coalition included a smaller Permanent Fund Dividend of roughly $1,200. The Senate version of the bill eliminated the House’s energy relief check to instead pay a larger dividend. If the budget passes with Wilson’s amendment in place, eligible Alaskans will receive both the dividend and the $1,300 energy relief payment.

Senators rejected several amendments from Shower, including requests for $400 million for the completion of a rail extension into the Matanuska-Susitna Valley — Rep. Mike Cronk, R-Tok, and several other Republican House members attempted similar amendments in that body’s version of the bill — and transfers of more than $1 billion to the state’s Constitutional Budget Reserve.

Shower also proposed a series of amendments cutting funding for various state programs, including eliminating grants for research into Bristol Bay fisheries, Alaska Municipal League grants, and reducing funding for senior food stamps. Shower argued that much of the funding he was proposing to be cut will largely be covered by federal funding coming to the state.

All of those amendments were voted down by a majority of the Senate.

Several amendments from Costello were put forward for various capital improvement projects in her distict, but none passed.

Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, who co-chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said on the floor that with the amendment to pay an energy relief check and a large dividend, the state wouldn’t have enough money to pay for many of its services. Stedman said proposals to increase spending on the dividend were assuming a high price of oil, and could result in the state being unable to pay its bills if the price were to drop.

Senators also rejected an amendment from Sen. Robert Myers, R-North Pole, that would remove funds for Medicaid services that cover abortion. But several senators noted the state was legally required to cover those services.

Similar amendments are introduced every year, Wielechowski said, and every year they’re found to violate the state constitution.

“This amendment is clearly unconstitutional,” Wielechowski said. “We’ve seen similar bills, we’ve seen similar amendments, the (Alaska) Supreme Court has repeatedly struck them down.”

Senators were still working on the budget bill into the evening Monday, with additional bills on their calendar, including the state’s mental health budget and a bill banning transgender athletes from competing as the sex they identify with in school sports.

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

More in News

Jasmine Chavez, a crew member aboard the Quantum of the Seas cruise ship, waves to her family during a cell phone conversation after disembarking from the ship at Marine Park on May 10. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Ships in port for the week of June 22

Here’s what to expect this week.

Participants in a pro-choice abortion rally gather outside the Governor’s Residence on Saturday to demand a pro-life flag flying at the entrance be taken down. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Pro-choice abortion protesters march to Governor’s Residence to demand removal of pro-life flag

Rally on second anniversary of U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision also focuses on fall election.

Eddie Petrie shovels gravel into a mine cart as fast as possible during the men’s hand mucking competition as part of Juneau Gold Rush Days on Saturday at Savikko Park. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Mucking, trucking, chucking and yukking it up at Juneau Gold Rush Days

Logging competitions, live music, other events continue Sunday at Savikko Park.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Thursday, June 20, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Pins supporting the repeal of ranked choice voting are seen on April 20 at the Republican state convention in Anchorage. (James Brooks/Alaska Beacon)
State judge upholds most fines against group seeking repeal of Alaska ranked choice voting

An Anchorage Superior Court judge has ruled that opponents of Alaska’s ranked… Continue reading

Joshua Midgett and Kelsey Bryce Riker appear on stage as the emcees for MixCast 2023 at the Crystal Saloon. (Photo courtesy Juneau Ghost Light Theatre)
And now for someone completely different: Familiar faces show new personas at annual MixCast cabaret

Fundraiser for Juneau Ghost Light Theatre on Saturday taking place amidst week of local Pride events

Jasz Garrett / Juneau Empire
A section of Angoon along the coast is seen on June 14. Angoon was destroyed by the U.S. Navy in 1882; here is where they first pulled up to shore.
Long-awaited U.S. Navy apology for 1882 bombardment will bring healing to Angoon

“How many times has our government apologized to any American Native group?”

Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon announced this week she plans to seek a third three-year term. (Juneau Empire file photo)
Mayor Beth Weldon seeking third term amidst personal and political challenges

Low mill rate, more housing cited by lifelong Juneau resident as achievements during past term.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire file photo)
Police calls for Wednesday, June 19, 2024

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Most Read