Alaska House speaker expresses confidence in effort to avert shutdown

Alaska House Speaker Luise Stutes, R-Kodiak, center, prepares for the start of the floor session on June 25, 2021, in the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau, Alaska. Stutes expressed confidence that the state would vote to resolve an impending shutdown of much of the state government. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)
Alaska House Speaker Luise Stutes, R-Kodiak, center, prepares for the start of the floor session on June 25, 2021, in the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau, Alaska. Stutes expressed confidence that the state would vote to resolve an impending shutdown of much of the state government. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

Alaska House Speaker Louise Stutes expressed confidence on Friday that the House will vote on Monday to avert much of state government shutting down

Stutes, a Kodiak Republican, has been negotiating with House Minority Leader Cathy Tilton, a Palmer Republican, over what it would take to avoid a shutdown. Stutes said she and Tilton have worked well together, but they are still “fine-tuning” the details ahead of a vote. 

“I feel positive and it’s nice to know that we’ve been able to work together,” Stutes said. “And it appears that the resolution is just right there on the horizon.” 

The House failed to pass a clause in the budget bill that would make the bill effective on July 1, the start of the budget year. 

House members said the minority is working on a document aimed at preparing a long-term plan for the state budget. If both caucuses agree on the document, House members anticipate that a vote to make the budget effective on July 1 would pass. 

Dillingham independent Rep. Bryce Edgmon said he hopes the House acts quickly. He’s a member of the House majority and voted for the clause that would make the budget effective on July 1.

“We don’t have much time to waste. The clock is ticking and we need to take action,”  Edgmon said. “We need to get the existing budget to the governor so he can begin his work — his constitutional duty to review it to make any decisions, make any vetoes he sees fit. But every day, going forward is precious, every single day.”

Nikiski Republican Rep. Ben Carpenter voted against the July 1 effective date. He said many state services would continue without that start date. He said an incorrect picture has been drawn that the state is going to go off a cliff. 

“It would be more appropriate to say we are taking a path downwards to the bottom of the cliff. And that path downwards starts on July 1,” he said. “There will be impacts on July 1 and the impact will continue to grow on July 2, on July 3, all the way out until the day in which the effective date of the budget is effective.”

Stutes hasn’t sent the bill to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s desk yet. Once he has the budget, he could sign the bill, veto it or veto individual line items. If the governor takes no action on the bill, it would automatically become law 15 days after he receives it, excluding Sundays, if the Legislature is in session. If the Legislature is in session, it’s 20 days, excluding Sundays. His administration said its provisions would go into effect 90 days after it becomes law. 

At least three of the 16 House minority caucus Republicans who voted against the July 1 effective date would have to change their votes to potentially avoid a shutdown. 

Members of the House minority have said they want the majority to agree to a framework for a long-term plan for the state budget. 

Dunleavy’s administration has said that many state  services required by the constitution would continue, while other services would be shut down fully or partially, without a budget bill in effect. 

The mostly Democratic House majority has differed from the Republican governor over whether a shutdown must occur. Each point to different legal interpretations of provisions of state law and the Alaska Constitution. 

Dunleavy’s administration has sued over the dispute. The Legislative Council — which handles the Legislature’s business — approved hiring the law firm Stoel Rives to represent the Legislative Affairs Agency in the lawsuit.

This story has been corrected to reflect the correct number of days that must pass for bills to be enacted if the governor doesn’t take action.

Andrew Kitchenman

State Government Reporter, Alaska Public Media & KTOO

State government plays an outsized role in the life of Alaskans. As the state continues to go through the painful process of deciding what its priorities are, I bring Alaskans to the scene of a government in transition.

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