The Alaska Legislature is in the fall of its 30-day special session and there appears to be little movement on the big bills that should have been completed in the 90-day session, if not all. the 120-day session.
The extended regular session ended on May 19. The first extraordinary session called by the governor this year ends on June 18.
Here’s what still hasn’t been done: There is no operating budget, no mental health budget, no capital budget, no permanent dividend fund. In other words, government funding for the year starting July 1 has not been decided since the opening hammer blow on January 19.
It’s 139 days to legislate and no budget to show for it. Nothing.
It comes down to fighting for dollars, of course, but ultimately it all depends on what the legislature plans to do with the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend this year.
The Permanent Fund dividend has been an issue that has annoyed the legislature since 2016, when Governor Walker took half of the dividend and then proved, through a court ruling, that it was simply an appropriation, and not a royalty, as had been envisaged by the founders of the Permanent Fund. Walker’s handling of the dividend has been a big part of the public who turned against him, as they also did against Senators Cathy Giessel and John Coghill, and more than a few members of the House who did not solved the structural problem.
The credits are contested year after year, and this year the fight seems longer than ever.
Here are some numbers to watch out for:
Zero: The amount the Alaska House of Representatives allocated to the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend. The House majority tried $ 500, but the Republican minority “disagreed”. They weren’t going to vote for a $ 500 dividend on their voting record.
$ 2,350: The amount the Alaska Senate has allocated to the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend. That’s roughly equal to the 50-50 split the governor called for in his constitutional amendment bill, and he says he can live with that if the people can only be allowed to vote on SJR 6.
$ 1,000: The approximate amount of the dividend could be this year and not be in violation of the spending limit provided for in SB 26, which creates a percentage of the market value drawn on the profit reserve account.
$ 81 billion: The balance of the Alaska Permanent Fund.
$ 18.3 billion: The amount in the Alaska Permanent Fund’s profit reserve account.
11: The number of Alaska State Senators needed to accept the compromise of the Conference Committee on Budgets and Dividend.
50-50: The governor’s proposal in SJR 6 to revert to the historic formula, where half of a five-year moving average of the fund’s annual investment income was spent on dividends for the people, and the rest could be used for the fund. government or reinvested in principle.
This last figure is critical: If the Senate already had 11 senators in agreement, they would have struck a deal, and the conference committee and the rest of the legislature would go home. But it is obvious that they do not have 11 senators. There are those on both sides of the political backbone who want Alaskans to have a full PFD or at least a constitutional question on the ballot. And there are those who are philosophically opposed to the dividend and want it as small as possible.
Conference committee chairs Senator Bert Stedman and Representative Neal Foster are trying to miss the allotted time a little more and start the panic journalism machine shutting down the government, relying on the media to blame the governor and blame Republicans for the lack of budget.
The conference committee also doesn’t want other lawmakers in Juneau, and most are in fact not here right now, as they would have to pay for their own room and board. The Legislative Assembly passed a law a few years ago stating that if they do not pass a budget, they cannot receive per diems during special sessions.
It should be noted that conference committee members do not need the statutory per diem allowance – they are all fairly well off. They don’t want every other lawmaker in Juneau either, because idle hands mess around and bored lawmakers could cause all kinds of trouble for leaders. Like a coup in the House, where Speaker Louise Stutes spends more time “softening” than leading.
This week there is a meeting of the House finance committee. There is a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee. And there is a clock on all government functions:
- HB 69, Operating budget
- HB 70 or SB 50: Investment budget
- HB 71: Mental health budget
- HB 72, SB 52: Dividend of the permanent fund
- HJR 7 or SJR 6: Governor’s proposal to ask voters to decide whether the dividend from the Permanent Fund should be written into the constitution.
- In other words, the only job of the legislature, other than voting on governorate appointments, is not done.
Legislative leaders appear to want to kick the PFD May down the August route, when there will be yet another special session. They don’t seem to want to forgo 50 percent of the permanent fund’s eligible income, nor do they want Alaskans to be able to vote because they know how Alaskans will vote, if they have the option.
This puts Senator Bert Stedman in a difficult position. After all, he was the one who proposed the 50-50 split in 2017 with SB 21, and it was Sen. Mike Dunleavy who supported his proposal and helped him move it.
Stedman now has the opportunity to advance his own proposal. Does Stedman have the courage to defend the 50-50 in 2021 as he did in 2017? Time will tell, but time flies faster than ever with 11 days until the special session and three weeks until the state government ceases to exist.
Read Gov. Mike Dunleavy: If We Want To Save The Dividend, This Is The Year