Alaska House holds budget floor session after COVID-19 delays
JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - The Alaska House of Representatives convened on Monday morning for its first substantive floor session in over a week as COVID-19 cases continue to hit the state Capitol building.
There have been tensions in the Capitol regarding face mask requirements on the House floor. Some House Republicans from the minority caucus declined to wear them last week, leading House Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, to cancel floor sessions.
On Monday morning, Stutes convened the session and said that masks would again be optional during floor debates, citing a drop in case numbers.
Matt Gruening, the House speaker’s chief of staff, said by email that as of Monday morning 39 people, including legislators and staff, had tested positive for COVID-19 in just over a week. Three people had tested positive on Monday morning, he added.
The floor session proceeded with the House advancing the operating budget. Amendments to the budget are set to be heard on Tuesday with hopes to pass it onto the Senate later in the week.
The bipartisan House majority coalition amended the budget proposal introduced by Gov. Mike Dunleavy in December. It seeks to spend and save from a windfall of revenue from high oil prices:
- The House bill includes a $1,300 energy relief check and a roughly $1,250 Permanent Fund dividend to be paid this year
- $1.2 billion would be set aside to pay for K-12 education one year in advance
- A $57 million increase in formula funding for Alaska school students
- Savings accounts would grow to $2.2 billion after they’ve been depleted from a decade of deficit spending
- $1 billion would be set to be transferred into the constitutional protected part of the Permanent Fund
- $395 million would be used to recapitalize the state’s college scholarship fund after it was drained last year
The House would also use $470 million to pay the remainder of oil and gas tax credits owed to producers after the Alaska Supreme Court struck down a bonding plan as unconstitutional in 2020.
The budget measures passed by the House would need support by the Senate and then to survive Dunleavy’s veto pen before they pass into law.
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