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Legislature called into second special session to fix budget issues

The exterior of the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau, Alaska.
The exterior of the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau, Alaska.(KTUU)
Published: Jun. 18, 2021 at 4:36 PM AKDT|Updated: Jun. 18, 2021 at 10:11 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Gov. Mike Dunleavy has officially called the Alaska Legislature into a second special session starting next week after its members failed to provide an effective date of July 1 for the state budget by the end of Friday.

The Legislature narrowly passed an incomplete budget earlier this week that included a $525 Permanent Fund dividend. However, while the Senate agreed to a July 1 start date, that procedural vote failed in the House of Representatives, and Dunleavy has said he will not sign a “defective” budget.

Legislators have been meeting behind closed doors this week to continue negotiations. The Legislature gaveled in for less than a minute on Friday afternoon before adjourning.

The governor’s executive proclamation calls the Legislature back into session starting at 10 a.m. next Wednesday. A government shutdown starting July 1 continues to loom over the state, but would be averted if Dunleavy signs an operating budget before then.

“This budget threatens a state government shutdown and jeopardizes public safety and essential services,” Dunleavy is quoted as saying in a Friday press release. “The budget passed this week is constitutionally impaired if the goal was for it to take effect on July 1. This second special session affords the opportunity to remedy that problem.”

Some legislators, however, don’t agree with the administration’s interpretation of the effective date clause issue, and say the budget could still become effective July 1 without the effective date clause.

Critics include House Finance Committee Co-Chair Rep. Kelly Merrick, R-Eagle River.

“I’m really dismayed by the governor’s decision to consider a government shutdown,” she said. “It’s the worst possible time to use a tactic like this when we’re just barely starting to heal from the economic effects of COVID.”

Meanwhile, layoff notices were sent out to thousands of state employees this week warning them of the potential government shutdown.

Aides to the governor said they are still putting together the list as to which state offices could be impacted. Unions who represent state workers are also disappointed by the governor’s action.

“We know the House and Senate passed a common-sense budget with an affordable dividend,” said Kim Hays, political director of Alaska AFL-CIO. “He’s now putting on a trajectory to a unnecessary shutdown.”

Editor’s note: This article was updated with additional information.

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