A page in the Alaska House of Representatives hands out copies of a budget bill over 100 pages long on Friday, April 30, 2021. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire

A page in the Alaska House of Representatives hands out copies of a budget bill over 100 pages long on Friday, April 30, 2021. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire

With May 19 goal in mind, lawmakers speed up work

Lawmakers are putting in extra days and late nights for the budget

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the Legislature passed a bill funding education for two years. The House of Representatives passed the bill but the Senate has yet to vote on it. This article has been updated. The Empire regrets the error.

House members worked into the evening Friday, debating a series of amendments on a massive budget bill that once passed will fund the state for another year. Friday marked day 102 of this year’s legislative session, and lawmakers are rushing to pass two budget bills before the end of the regular session on May 19.

After 121 days, a special session of the Legislature has to be called. Lawmakers can call themselves into special session but it needs a vote of two-thirds of both bodies and the governor can also call a special session. But leadership in both bodies have said they want to avoid that and adjourn before that becomes necessary.

The House of Representatives already passed a bill funding education for the next two years, but funding for most state services is in a single bill, House Bill 69, which members of the House Finance Committee have been working on all week.

[Disaster debate drags out in Senate]

House members worked through dozens of amendments Friday evening, reconvening at 4 p.m. to allow the Division of Legal Services time to review all the proposals. House Speaker Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, told lawmakers Friday the deadline for amendments to both HB69 and the mental health budget bill HB71, were due by noon Saturday.

Copies of the bill, more than 100 pages in length, were handed out to House members Friday afternoon and members of the Republican minority voiced their opposition to how the budget had been handled.

“There’s been no discussion of putting (federal relief) money aside,” said Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski,

Carpenter said the state still had a large spending deficit, and the current budget did nothing to address that issue.

“I think we need to change the dynamics a little bit, recognizing we are on a course that could lead to peril,” he said.

Carpenter offered an amendment on the floor that would have transferred $1 billion from the Earnings Reserve Account of the Alaska Permanent Fund to the investment account of the Public Employee Retirement System. Moving the money would bolster the PERS account and help reduce the amount the state needed to spend each year on retirement payments.

Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, said on the floor he didn’t think the idea was necessarily a bad one, but that it was unwise to do so without further analysis. The amendment failed.

House members were planning to meet on Saturday, which they don’t typically do, to work toward passing both budget bills. Once the bills are passed, they’ll go to the Senate.

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

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