Alaska Legislature starts special session with budget, PFD unresolved

Debates on the Senate floor to pass a budget went late into the night on Wednesday.
Debates on the Senate floor to pass a budget went late into the night on Wednesday.(KTUU)
Updated: May. 20, 2021 at 4:36 PM AKDT
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska Legislature convened for the start of a special session on Thursday morning with the budget and the Permanent Fund dividend still to be resolved.

The Senate passed a budget bill late on Wednesday night, less than one hour before the regular session ended. Included in that bill is a $2,300 dividend.

That dividend figure, representing 50% of a now annual draw from Permanent Fund earnings, will be the subject of negotiations as legislators resolve differences between the budgets passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate so a single bill can be passed by the Legislature.

The PFD figure approved by the Senate would overdraw the Permanent Fund beyond sustainable levels set out by the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp.

Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, voted for the 50-50 dividend passed by the Senate on Wednesday, but says there should be a focus on how to pay for it. He has stressed that the Legislature should pass a budget in the next few days and adjourn to deal with the state fiscal challenges as one package during a second special session in August.

“We have some work to do, I think it’s better done at home not at the expense of being down in Juneau,” he said. “I think we can get there, we have to get there this year.”

Gov. Mike Dunleavy called for legislators to pass a budget, a PFD and to debate his proposal to put a new dividend formula in the Alaska Constitution during the first special session. Corey Young, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, said Dunleavy expects the Legislature to have meaningful debates on that proposal over the next 30 days.

The House is more split on what should be tackled during the first special session.

Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome, suggested there could be some House Finance Committee meetings on a long-term fix for dividend debates, but like the Senate, some members of the House of Representatives have commitments that will take them out of the state Capitol soon.

Wasilla Republican Rep. Cathy Tilton, the House minority leader, said she feels like legislators should use the special session to really debate a long-term Permanent Fund solution.

“I feel like we have some momentum in answering those questions,” she said, while stressing she was speaking for herself, and not necessarily the entire Republican House minority caucus.

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