Members of the Senate Finance Committee discussed the state's capital budget bill in a meeting on Monday, May 17, 2021, but it's not clear when it might be debated on the floor. Lawmakers had been pushing to finish the bill before May 19, but a special session from the governor has given them more time. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

With more time, lawmakers take step back on budget

Special session gives lawmakers room to work, but the rush is still on

Lawmakers hope to finalize a state budget before the end of the week even as several key issues remain unsettled.

Both chambers of the Legislature passed several pieces of legislation Monday, but a budget bill was not one of them.

Lawmakers are using the time afforded to them by the special session called by Gov. Mike Dunleavy last week to work on a state budget bill. The special session is set to begin Thursday, effectively extending the regular session by 30 days. The House of Representatives already passed bills for the state’s mental health and operating budgets, and the language in those bills will be added to a Senate bill for the state’s capital budget to create a single bill.

On Friday, Senate President Peter Micciche said he hoped to see a budget bill on the floor of the Senate Sunday or Monday, but as the week began the various budget bills remained in the Senate Finance Committee. That committee has been meeting almost every weekday for months, sometimes twice a day, to process the many bills that have to pass through it.

The committee briefly reviewed revisions to the bill made by the Dunleavy administration Monday afternoon, and committee co-chair, Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, said amendments for the bill were due noon Tuesday. Lawmakers have said the state’s budget amounts are similar to the governor’s proposed budget introduced in December.

[Lawmakers mixed on governor’s special sessions]

Speaking to the committee Monday, Christopher Clark, staff member to Bishop, said administration officials had worked in close coordination with the Legislature, and while some items in the governor’s committee substitute that were priorities for the administration, the majority of the appropriations were statewide in nature.

However, Sen. Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage, pushed back against that characterization.

“The bulk of this is (the Matanuska-Susitna Valley). Just saying,” von Imhof said in the committee meeting.

Dunleavy last week called for two special sessions, one extending the current regular session ending May 19, and another for August. But lawmakers are only taking a little more time to work on the budget, and aren’t interested in staying in Juneau for another 30 days, Micciche told reporters last week.

When a governor calls a special session they are able to limit the scope of the agenda to certain items, and for the summer’s two special sessions Dunleavy has included three proposed constitutional amendments. Taken together, Dunleavy has said those amendments will resolve several longstanding issues that have prevented lawmakers from addressing other critical issues.

But the governor has proposed these amendments before and they haven’t gotten traction in the Legislature. However, Dunleavy and several Republican lawmakers said in a news conference last week they were willing to step away from their insistence the state use a statutory formula to determine the amount of each year’s Permanent Fund Dividend.

But the governor’s proposed amendments could change significantly in the legislative process, and if they do pass the necessary two-thirds of the Legislature, amendments must still be approved by a statewide vote.

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

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