The Alaska Legislature is scheduled to end its session Wednesday, under a deadline set by the Alaska Constitution. But that doesn’t mean its work is over.
It’s not at all likely that the Legislature will finish its work by when it’s supposed to, for a few reasons.
Work has just started on the operating budget conference committee – it named Homer Republican Rep. Paul Seaton as its chairman and Bethel Democratic Sen. Lyman Hoffman as vice chair. The two chambers are separated by $230 million.
There could be difficulty agreeing on cuts, in part due to the nature of the Senate cuts, some of which could be shifted among budget lines.
The Senate version of a bill eliminating oil and gas tax credits is very different than the House bill, so that could lead to another conference committee.
And conference committee work hasn’t started on Senate Bill 26, the Permanent Fund bill. The two chambers have big differences. The Senate version would put a cap on state spending, although the cap is above the governor’s proposed budget. And the House version requires that the Legislature also pass an income tax — already voted down by the Senate — and raise oil and gas taxes.
There are no public signs the Senate and House will find common ground on a Permanent Fund plan.
House leaders said the plan should cover the state’s entire $2.5 billion deficit. Senate majority members said they’d like to see a deficit to push down on spending. They also said their plan would close the deficit – if a recent increase in oil production holds steady.
The House continues to call for some form of broad-based tax, and the Senate continues to oppose it.
It’s increasingly unlikely that two-thirds of both chambers will pass a 10-day extension through Saturday, May 27.
With much to do and little time to do it, it’s more likely that Gov. Bill Walker will call the Legislature back, as soon as Thursday, for a 30-day special session. Pressure on the Legislature to at least pass a budget will grow at the beginning of June, when state workers receive notices that they’ll be laid off if the Legislature doesn’t reach a budget agreement by June 30.
The governor’s special session proclamation would include important bills other than the budget, including the Permanent Fund bill.
All the while, the public is spending roughly $16,000 per day to cover lawmakers’ living expenses as long as the Legislature remains in session.
In other news, the Senate passed a REAL ID bill Monday. This bill would bring Alaska into compliance with a federal law that includes a series of mandates regarding driver’s licenses.
Anchorage Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski explained why he became one of five senators to oppose the bill.
“I’m hopeful that other states — if we don’t pass this – will follow our example,” he said. “Is the federal government really going to say, ‘No, you can’t get on a plane?’ An entire state can’t get on a plane and fly, an entire state that has no other way to get out of the state really.”
But Eagle River Republican Sen. Anna MacKinnon emphasized that people will be able to opt out of getting a federally compliant driver’s license.
“Nothing in this bill is handling or holding information longer than the state of Alaska currently does,” she said. “And there is no large data sharing anywhere (in the bill).”
The noncompliant IDs won’t be enough to allow unescorted trips on military bases after June 6, and on commercial flights next January — unless the federal government switches its rules.
The House and Senate have to decide whether to agree to the other chamber’s REAL ID bill before the deadline of Wednesday to send the bill to Gov. Walker.
- The Juneau Assembly declined to pass a broaden sales tax exemption for seniors. Opposition from businesses prodded elected officials to refer the initiative back to committee.
- Fines for pet owners whose for critters scooped up by animal control officers have gone up. The fees hadn't been adjusted for nearly 17 years.
- Local education officials are applying for state money to replace and repair leaky roofs at several Juneau schools. About $5 million is coming in over the next five years earmarked for school maintenance from sales tax money that voters approved in the Oct. 3 election.
- "They’re calling it GTA, grand theft Anchorage, right now," said Rep. Lora Reinbold, who says she wants to repeal Senate Bill 91. "It’s outrageous, what’s going on in the city that I love.”