Juneau, Alaska (Alaska Beacon) - If the situation is not resolved by Wednesday, the Legislature or Gov. Mike Dunleavy will be forced to call a special session to continue negotiations
In what is likely the Alaska Legislature’s final attempt to pass a state budget on time, members of the Senate Finance Committee crafted a budget “turducken” and called Thursday on the state House to prepare for a straight up-or-down vote on the proposal.
In a brief meeting Thursday, committee members inserted the state’s annual capital budget — which pays for construction and renovation projects — into the Senate’s proposed operating budget bill. Also included were funding for legislation expected to gain approval by Wednesday.
Legislative observers and some lawmakers have taken to naming bills that combine the operating, capital and other budget pieces after the turducken, a term popularized by football figure John Madden for a dish that combines a turkey, duck and chicken in one bird.
The result is a single $6.3 billion omnibus bill that would fund state services for the 12 months that begin July 1.
The proposed budget bill has yet to leave the finance committee or be approved by the full Senate, leaving little time for the House to formally consider it.
“Time is running out for the legislative session to end within constitutional limits, but it has not run out yet,” said Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak.
The Senate proposal includes a Permanent Fund dividend of about $1,300 per recipient — roughly half the amount favored by the House — and a $175 million increase to the state’s per-student funding formula for public schools.
Under normal procedures, the House would reject the Senate’s proposed budget, causing lawmakers to set up a conference committee that would then negotiate a compromise that includes ideas from the Senate plan and one previously passed by the House.
But 11:59 p.m. Wednesday is the constitutional limit of the regular session, and members of the House and Senate each said that there is no longer enough time to take the normal route.
The window for a conference committee “came and closed,” said Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka and the finance committee co-chair in charge of the operating budget.
Stevens agreed: “Unfortunately, the time passed when we could have a conference committee. That doesn’t mean, though, that we can’t continue to negotiate.”
The capital and operating budgets have been in Stedman’s committee for almost a month, which has left some House lawmakers demanding to see a bill.
Now, with time running out, the Senate is preparing a take-it-or-leave-it approach: an up-or-down vote on whether to agree with the Senate plan.
That’s not likely to succeed, said Speaker of the House Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, and House Minority Leader Calvin Schrage, I-Anchorage.
“At this point, concurrency is unlikely. But we’ll see,” Tilton said.
In a news conference earlier this week, Schrage said he would like to see the House vote yes on the Senate’s budget, but said that as of Tuesday, sufficient votes didn’t exist.
Schrage and Stedman each said the Senate’s budget is preferable because it balances without spending from the Constitutional Budget Reserve, the state’s principal savings account.
But members of the House majority prefer a larger Permanent Fund dividend that requires spending from the reserve. They cite popular support for larger dividends, as well as the economic impact of paying out more.
That’s a position irreconcilable with the Senate majority and House minority, which say they will not vote in favor of spending from the reserve. They’re concerned about passing a budget that wouldn’t be sustainable in the future. A separate Senate-passed bill would allow for a Permanent Fund dividend on the scale of the House bill if lawmakers add $1.3 billion in taxes or other revenue to pay for it.
If the situation is not resolved by Wednesday, the Legislature or Gov. Mike Dunleavy will be forced to call a special session in order to continue negotiations.