Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, tells reporters why the bill for next year’s budget was held over Tuesday until the final day of the session on Wednesday. The Senate floor session is scheduled to start at 11 a.m., giving the Senate and House 13 hours to resolve their differences before the 121-day session deadline. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, tells reporters why the bill for next year’s budget was held over Tuesday until the final day of the session on Wednesday. The Senate floor session is scheduled to start at 11 a.m., giving the Senate and House 13 hours to resolve their differences before the 121-day session deadline. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Senate stalls budget for suspenseful final day

Legislature will have 13 hours to solve differences over PFD, other issues to avoid special session

The state Senate took no action on the state budget Tuesday, leaving just a 13-hour window for the House and Senate to resolve their differences on the final day of the session Wednesday if they want to avoid a special session.

Senate President Gary Stevens, a Kodiak Republican, said after Tuesday’s floor session his chamber’s vote on the budget bill was delayed because he doesn’t want to send a spending plan to the House that gets rejected due to their differences.

“I’m a little concerned about sending a budget to them and leading into possibly a special session,” he said.

Numerous closed-door meetings between House and Senate leaders have taken place in recent days, but the public business of debating and passing the budget will have to occur Wednesday between the Senate’s scheduled start at 11 a.m. and the adjournment deadline of 11:59:59 p.m.

Stevens and other senate leaders indicated there’s a willingness among some majority members to give ground on the main point of dispute: the size of the Permanent Fund dividend and how to pay for it. The Senate budget contains a $1,300 PFD that incurs no deficit that requires reserve funds to cover, but majorty members said after Tuesday’s floor session some are willing to consider a larger dividend and tapping into a limited amount of reserves.

“Personally, a small draw I might consider, but others are not considering any draw at all,” Stevens said, adding there would need to be a compromise and agreement within the Senate majority.

A larger PFD, without specifying a target amount, received support from Senate Rules Chair Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat, with the caveat that a way to pay for it is needed.

“That’s what the plan is for tomorrow,” he said.

The House is seeking a $2,700 PFD that also incurs a $600 million budget deficit. A three-quarters vote of both the House and Senate would be needed to tap into the $2.4 billion Constitutional Budget Reserve to cover the gap, but in addition to the Senate majority saying they don’t support a large withdrawl the House Minority caucuses says they won’t vote to access the fund.

House Speaker Cathy Tilton, a Wasilla Republican, declined to comment before and after Tuesaday’s floor session on the Senate’s postponment of the budget.

If the stalemate remains, legislators can extend the session by 10 days with a two-thirds vote of each chamber, which Stevens said is extremely unlikely. Gov. Mike Dunleavy can also order a 30-day special session, but declined to offer specific comments about the standoff and his intentions if a budget isn’t passed by adjounment.

“Gov. Dunleavy has been meeting with legislators on both sides of the aisle, and he hopes they will come up with a resolution between now and tomorrow,” a statement issued by his press office notes. “The governor has always advocated for a budget that funds core services and provides a fair dividend.”

Stevens, who was first elected to the Legislature in 2001, said if there’s a special session it’s not likely to produce quick results.

“I’ve been through so many special sessions that members come and leave during the next month,” he said. “The real business that’s taken care of, as you’ve been here before, happens in the last week.”

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com.

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