Budget working group aims for compromises that have eluded Alaska Legislature for years

The members of the Joint Comprehensive Fiscal Plan Working Group listen to Sen. Lyman, D-Bethel, at the bottom center, on July 7, 2021, in the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau. The group held its first meeting. (Gavel Alaska screen capture)
The members of the Joint Comprehensive Fiscal Plan Working Group listen to Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, at the bottom center, on Wednesday in the Anchorage Legislative Information Office. The group held its first meeting. (Gavel Alaska screen capture)

Alaska lawmakers seeking to agree on long-term changes to the state budget said at their first meeting that they want to reach compromises that have so far eluded the Legislature.

Palmer Republican Sen. Shelley Hughes, one of eight members of the new working group, said the group’s recommendations will lead to changes if they can gain the support of legislators from all parts of the state.   

“We want to put forward an actual, workable, realistic package — built around consensus — that will get the needed votes,” Hughes said at the meeting at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office. “And that’s no easy thing. As we know, for the past six years.”

The state has been spending much more than it raises in revenue since oil prices fell in 2014. 

The working group may consider changing the formula for setting permanent fund dividends, lowering the maximum amount that the state government can spend and raising new or higher taxes. And it may recommend that these changes be made in state law or through amendments to the Alaska Constitution.

Legislative leaders’ goal is for the working group’s recommendations to be presented to the entire Legislature for the next special session. 

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has called for a special session to begin on Aug. 2. But working group members and legislative leaders raised the possibility that the timing could be moved back if the group is making progress and needs more time. A spokesperson for Dunleavy said it remains the governor’s intention to start the special session on Aug. 2.

Lawmakers have been unable to reach agreement on major issues like changing the permanent fund formula. 

Several task force members expressed the importance of compromising. 

Bethel Democratic Sen. Lyman Hoffman, one of the group’s co-chairs, noted that legislative leaders are committed to having each chamber act on the group’s recommendations.

Hoffman is the longest-serving legislator in Alaska history. He talked about the challenges the Legislature has had in proposing amendments to the state constitution. 

“I would like to remind the people of Alaska, the House of Representatives and the senators, and especially the members of this committee: We have the opportunity to have the battle. We may not all win it. But at the end of the day, we should accept what work has been done,” Hoffman said.

The group’s eight members are split equally between the four legislative caucuses. 

The Senate members are majority-caucus Sens. Hoffman and Hughes, and minority-caucus Sens. Scott Kawasaki, a Fairbanks Democrat, and Jesse Kiehl, a Juneau Democrat.

The House members are majority-caucus Reps. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, a Sitka Democrat who will serve with Hoffman as co-chair, and Calvin Schrage, an Anchorage independent, and minority caucus Reps. Ben Carpenter, a Nikiski Republican, and Kevin McCabe, a Big Lake Republican.

Hoffman said the group may meet as frequently as twice per week, beginning next week. The next meeting date was tentatively set for Tuesday in Anchorage. Hoffman said future meetings could be held in Juneau, Fairbanks and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. 

 

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.

Read next

Site notifications
Update notification options
Subscribe to notifications