Fourth special session for Alaska Legislature to begin Oct. 4

The exterior of the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau, Alaska.
The exterior of the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau, Alaska.(KTUU)
Published: Sep. 28, 2021 at 5:45 PM AKDT|Updated: Sep. 28, 2021 at 7:44 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Gov. Mike Dunleavy will convene the Alaska’s Legislature’s fourth special session on Oct. 4, he announced Tuesday.

The session was originally slated to begin on Friday, but it is now set to begin at 2 p.m. on Monday to ensure enough legislators are present in the state Capitol to convene.

Dunleavy also amended the special session agenda on Tuesday to include an appropriations bill to pay a supplemental Permanent Fund dividend. He signed a spending bill that includes a $1,100 PFD approved by the Legislature earlier this month with the first payments expected in the week of Oct. 11.

If Dunleavy’s new bill passes through the Legislature, Alaskans would receive a roughly $2,350 dividend, following the 50-50 model. The House of Representatives and the Senate have rejected a 50-50 dividend with a majority of legislators saying a long-term fiscal plan is needed before a PFD of that size is paid.

The fourth special session is focused on developing and passing that plan which could include putting a new dividend formula in the constitution, implementing a tighter spending cap and passing new statewide revenue measures.

“The Governor introduced these items based on a recent report from a bipartisan legislative working group tasked with offering solutions to the state’s longstanding fiscal challenges,” a press release from the governor’s office states.

Legislators have been deeply split on how to pass a fiscal plan. Some have been critical of the governor for not introducing or backing taxes to pay for his 50-50 dividend and the budget.

“It begs the question, what’s the point of having a Legislature if the governor is going to do everything?” Dunleavy said in response earlier in the month.

The governor has called for a constitutional dividend package, but a single constitutional amendment requires support from two-thirds of the Legislature before it is supported by a majority of Alaska voters. That’s a high hurdle to overcome.

The third special session ended without the House of Representatives or the Senate passing any bills to implement a fiscal plan. But there were small signs of progress.

Senate Bill 53 made it to the Senate floor on the final day of the session. It had a “stair-step” approach to deliver a 50-50 dividend over several years, but that was contingent on $700 million in new revenues being implemented annually.

The bill was tabled after it became clear that there weren’t enough votes to advance it onto the House of Representatives.

“What does that say? There’s progress being made on a fiscal plan but obviously we’re not ready at this point to make those final decisions,” said Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, on the last day of the session.

House Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, said it is unlikely that a complete fiscal plan will be finalized over the upcoming 30-day special session. She suggested progress could be made to come to some agreement, but that many in the Legislature are exhausted after spending so many months this year in session.

Other legislators, like Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, think the Legislature should focus on the regular session that starts in January to debate the long-term future of the dividend.

“Special sessions are very expensive and these have been very non-eventful and non-productive,” he said in August.

Some legislators are also concerned about convening in Juneau with COVID-19 cases surging. That could see committee hearings take place outside of the building or legislators calling in remotely during the special session. They could then meet in Juneau for any floor sessions to pass legislation.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information and quotes.

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