Alaska House of Representatives votes to avert government shutdown

Members of the Republican House minority caucus meet during a break in the floor session on Monday, June 28, 2021, in the Capitol. The House voted to avert shutting down much of state government. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

The Alaska House of Representatives voted 28 to 10 on Monday to allow the budget bill to go into effect on July 1, averting a state government shutdown.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy said he is reviewing the budget for individual line items that he could veto, but that the vote means he can now prepare the budget to be implemented.

House Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, said the vote will be a relief to many.

“We’ve got a lot of Alaskans that are probably jumping for joy about now, thinking that their paychecks are going to continue on coming,” she said.

Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, changed her vote on Monday for the budget to take effect at the start of the budget year, after voting against it earlier this month.

Tilton is the leader of the Republican House minority caucus. She said there’s much work left to do to fix the state’s structural budget problem.

“I would not say that it is a win or a victory,” she said. “I believe that it is a beginning and a start.”

The House had voted on June 15 against the budget bill starting on July 1, the first day of the budget year. The state constitution requires that two-thirds of both chambers agree to make bills effective on a date other than 90 days after bills become laws. While the Senate cleared that two-thirds bar, the House didn’t.

House Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, and Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, talk about an agreement they reached to have a working group recommend long-term budget changes, on Monday in the Capitol. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

The vote to avoid a shutdown came after some minority-caucus Republican members expressed concern that the majority wasn’t upholding an agreement between Stutes and Tilton

Stutes said there was a lack of communication over whether she and Tilton had reached an agreement on the votes. She credited Tilton with working to resolve their differences.

This new budget vote will allow the vast majority of state services to continue. But some programs will stop at least temporarily. They include the programs to reduce the cost of energy in high-cost regions and to provide academic scholarships and need-based grants for college students. It also leaves the current level of this year’s permanent fund dividend at $525.

Legislators from all four caucuses have said they want to reach an agreement that would allow these programs to resume and for the PFD to be higher. But there are differences over what it will take to reach an agreement. Three-quarters of both chambers must vote to fund these programs from a separate savings account called the Constitutional Budget Reserve.

Tilton said her caucus wants to resolve the future of the PFD this year. And she said withholding the votes to draw from the CBR is part of an effort to make that happen.

“We still have the three-quarter vote ahead of us. And we’re going to hold on to that,” she said.

The House also passed a motion supporting the launch of a working group to recommend changes that would lead to a long-term balanced budget. It would include members of both the House and Senate. The motion said the group will hold at least two public meetings and make recommendations before the next special session. Dunleavy has called for another special session to begin on August 2.

Both chambers voted to adjourn the current special session, which lasted six days.

Dunleavy, a Republican, said earlier this month that without a different outcome, much of state government would shut down on July 1. Members of the mostly Democratic House majority disagreed with his interpretation of the constitution, and said he was choosing to have a shutdown. The Dunleavy administration then sued over the disagreement. Oral arguments on that lawsuit are scheduled for Tuesday.

This story has been updated with more information and comments from lawmakers.

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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