There’s still no set date for when the Legislature might pass the state’s budget bill but leadership says the talks are now turning to the more contentious items in the budget.
“We’ve gotten through all the less contentious items and now we’re negotiating items that will take some time,” said Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome, in an email. “We don’t have a target date set for close-out.”
Foster is chair of the bicameral conference committee currently negotiating a comprehensive budget bill for the state. As passed by the Senate the budget allocates a Permanent Fund Dividend of $2,300, an amount requiring a draw of more than the statutory 5% of market value of the Earnings Reserve Account of the Alaska Permanent Fund.
Foster said the committee would be nearly halfway done with the operating budget by the end of Wednesday’s meeting and members had already finished the supplemental budget items.
While the conference committee negotiates the budget, the rest of the Legislature have been having committee meetings on the few items they’re allowed under Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s call to special session. But several lawmakers have excused absences throughout June. Although there are lawmakers in Juneau, many others have left the capital. The excused absences mean lawmakers don’t have to be present for whatever floor sessions may take place, but they can still choose to return for a vote if asked.
Only members of the conference committee are allowed input on the budget negotiations, but members are there to represent the interests of their caucus, and lawmakers not on the committee often attend its meetings.
“We’ve told members that as soon as we are done we will give them a day or two to fly down for a concurrence vote,” Foster said.
So far committee negotiations have not addressed divisive issues like the size of the Permanent Fund Dividend. The state’s fiscal year ends at the end of the month and the special session ends June 19. The governor’s office has previously told the Empire the administration is confident and budget can be passed before automatic layoff notices are triggered.
The House and Senate Judiciary and Legislative Budget and Audit committees are having joint meetings daily but are only allowed to hear testimony for certain items on the call of the special session. Lawmakers have been hearing testimony from various officials regarding the governor’s three proposed constitutional amendments, but haven’t taken any actions to amend the proposals. Some of those meetings are being held at legislative offices in Anchorage as well as the Capitol building.
Dunleavy’s amendments have received a mixed reaction from lawmakers as it creates the need for additional revenue without specifying where that money might come from. But several conservative lawmakers, Dunleavy included, have said they’re willing to consider some kind of tax, a significant departure from past positions.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.