The Alaska Legislature meets for a third special session. What’s on the agenda?

The Alaska State Capitol doors have required key cards to unlock throughout the 2021 legislative session, June 16, 2021. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)
The Alaska State Capitol on June 16, 2021. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

The Alaska Legislature meets in Juneau on Monday for the third special session of the year.

Governor Mike Dunleavy’s proposals to amend the state constitution are on the agenda. One amendment would lower the limit on how much the state government can spend each year. The other would enshrine the permanent fund dividend in the constitution. It also would set an annual draw from the permanent fund to pay for PFDs and for government. And it would add the program that lowers the cost of electricity in high-cost areas to the constitution.

The agenda also includes the possibility of bills to raise revenue, like taxes.

But the agenda doesn’t include funding for this year’s PFD — or $18.1 million for university scholarships and grants; $3.3 million for medical education; and $15.8 million in oil spill prevention and response. Dunleavy would like to see his proposals addressed first.

The lawmakers could draw from the work of a group of lawmakers who have been discussing ways to close the long-term gap between how much the state spends and what it raises in revenue.

Fairbanks Democratic Sen. Scott Kawasaki, a member of this working group, said it’s been productive.

“We’ve come up with some great ideas, and I think that this will move forward,” he said. “It might not get us to where we need to be in a special session, but it’ll get us moving forward.”

The group’s Republican members could not immediately be reached on Friday.

The working group has eight members split equally among the four legislative caucuses. They’ve been charged with coming up with recommendations for the rest of the Legislature. The group held a series of public and private meetings, but as of late Friday afternoon, hadn’t published a report yet.

Group members have discussed the goals of settling on a new formula for the PFD; enacting new taxes and raising existing taxes; and lowering the limit on how much money the state can spend. But they have yet to reach agreement on how to achieve these goals.

State Revenue Commissioner Lucinda Mahoney presented several revenue ideas to the group. She said Dunleavy would support them if the Legislature passed them. But Dunleavy has said he wouldn’t sign tax bills if the Legislature doesn’t also pass his amendments.

There hasn’t been public agreement on what kinds of taxes should be passed. And there’s not an agreement on how large those taxes should be.

There’s not an agreement on how large the long-term spending gap is — the administration has projected the deficit as being smaller than has a nonpartisan analysis.

And conservative Republican lawmakers would like the Legislature to commit to more cuts in spending on state services. But they have not proposed bills that would make those cuts happen on a large scale. And that’s left other legislators wary that larger dividends could be used to force large cuts to state services later.

It’s not clear if the necessary two-thirds of each chamber is prepared to vote in favor of the governor’s proposed amendments.

The budget would have included an $1,100 PFD, but conservative lawmakers didn’t provide the votes necessary for $575 of it, and Dunleavy vetoed the rest, saying Alaskans would view it as a joke. He wants a PFD of at least the amount it would be under his amendment proposal, or roughly $2,350 this year.

Without agreement on the amendments or the governor adding this year’s PFD to the agenda or that of another special session, Alaskans would go without PFDs for the first time since the program started.

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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