Alaska House plans to vote on its version of the operating budget again on Monday
JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - After a week of deadlock, the Alaska House of Representatives looks set to vote on its version of the operating budget again on Monday, with hopes to send it to the Senate on the same day.
The operating budget has been stalled in the House Rules Committee since Sunday. Negotiations have gone on behind closed doors on dozens of unheard amendments from the Republican minority caucus and which ones will move forward to the floor.
House Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, said her understanding is that all the unheard amendments will be considered, unless they’re withdrawn by the legislator who introduced them. The majority of the unheard amendments are from conservative legislator Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla.
Eastman says he intends to move all his amendments forward, including one that he says ties funding the Division of Elections to safeguarding the state’s electoral system.
The 21-member House majority coalition is razor thin; some members have been concerned the budget could end up with some unpalatable provisions for progressives. Stutes said the majority coalition is a diverse caucus, but there is an agreement that every member will vote on the final budget bill.
“So certainly, we’re not all going to agree on every single amendment,” she added.
The House took over a month to organize, allowing for it to begin policy work. That delayed the budget process. So has an ongoing wait for federal guidance on how to spend $1 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act.
With just over 11 days until the constitutional session limit, time is running out for the Legislature to adjourn on time. Stutes said she is still hopeful that can happen.
“That’s what we’re aiming for and I’m an optimist,” she said.
A Permanent Fund dividend amount has not been decided and a capital budget hasn’t passed either.
Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, oversees the capital budget in the Senate. He says it’s possible the capital budget will be heard in the Senate Finance Committee next week.
It would need to pass through the Senate and then the House. The operating budget would typically need to work in reverse.
Some legislators, including Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, have suggested that the Legislature should take more time before deciding how to spend significant portions of the $1 billion in federal COVID-19 funding allocated to Alaska.
That could necessitate a special session later in the year to decide how that money is spent. There are also discussions about holding a special session to resolve the long-term future of the PFD.
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