Alaska House leaders hopeful for budget deal by Monday
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska House leaders said Friday they were optimistic about reaching an agreement to avert a partial government shutdown, with the new budget year just days away.
House Speaker Louise Stutes said she was confident a resolution would be reached by Monday to address the failed effective date provisions attached to a state spending package passed last week.
“I’m happy to say that I believe there’s going to be a resolution, and there will not be a state shutdown,” Stutes said.
House Minority Leader Cathy Tilton said she also felt optimistic.
Neither leader provided details on a possible agreement.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy called the spending package passed by the Legislature “defective,” noting in particular the House’s failure to reach the two-thirds threshold on a procedural effective date vote.
Attorney General Treg Taylor has asked a judge to weigh in, arguing in court documents that due to the failed effective date vote, the soonest the budget could take effect is in September.
The new fiscal year starts Thursday.
A legislative attorney has said Dunleavy could give heed to retroactive provisions in the bill or use other tools to keep state government operating until it takes effect, such as interim borrowing.
The House majority coalition, led by Stutes, has 21 members and needs help from minority Republicans to get the necessary 27 votes for the effective date clause. Some minority Republicans had expressed frustration with what they saw a strong-arm budget tactics and said they wanted to be included in talks on what pieces should be considered as part of a broader fiscal plan.
Legislative leaders have expressed interest in discussing fiscal issues, including possible changes to Alaska’s dividend program, later this year. The size of the dividend, traditionally paid to residents with earnings from the state’s oil-wealth fund, has become a perennial hot-button and overshadowed other issues, particularly as lawmakers have been using earnings to also help pay for government.
A House floor session Friday largely featured speeches. Both the House and Senate are set to meet next Monday.
Tilton said she expected talks to continue over the weekend. Tilton said the resolution lawmakers are working toward focuses on the effective date issue.
Yet to be addressed is the failure by each the House and Senate to reach the three-fourths vote needed to access the constitutional budget reserve fund. The budget plan also included language meant to prevent a list of accounts used for such things as student scholarships and rural electric costs from being swept into the reserve fund. The three-quarter vote also was needed for this.
Under the state constitution, money taken from the constitutional budget reserve is to be repaid, and lawmakers have relied on it for years to help cover expenses. Caught up in all this is this year’s dividend. The budget proposed funding part of the check with money from the constitutional budget reserve and from another reserve fund that is among the pots considered subject to the sweep.
Lawmakers, currently meeting in their second special session of the year, are anticipating another special session in August.