Alaska House passes bill reversing $284M in governor’s vetoes, but no PFD

Published: Jul. 24, 2019 at 4:47 PM AKDT
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Halfway through the second special session, the Alaska House of Representatives has passed legislation that would reverse $284 million of the $444 million in funding vetoed by the governor.

As written, HB 2001 would restore $110 million in funding for the University of Alaska, $77 million for Medicaid and reinstate the Senior Benefits Program.

Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, successfully introduced an amendment that would add $5 million for the Alaska Marine Highway System after $45 million was cut from its budget.

Nome Democratic Rep. Neal Foster, a co-chair of the House Finance Committee, estimated that roughly 75% of the governor’s vetoes would be reversed by the legislation and 25%, or $84 million in cuts, would be accepted by the Legislature.

An amendment to House Bill 2001 removed an appropriation for the Permanent Fund dividend with the amount instead set to be debated in another bill. House Bill 2003 was introduced Wednesday morning that would currently deliver a $1,600 dividend.

Rep. Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage, said it was essential to debate the PFD separately from items in the operating budget “without other baggage surrounding it.”

Removing the PFD from the bill caused frustration among the House minority. Members said it was a surprise and that they were led to believe that the PFD would be part of debate.

“We were negotiating in good faith,” said Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, of the backroom discussions with the majority over which items members could support funding. “Then the goal posts changed.”

Homer Republican Rep. Sarah Vance unsuccessfully introduced an amendment to the bill that would have delivered a $3,000 dividend. “The people this is going to affect by not distributing the full dividend is the low-income families, that happens to be mine,” she said.

The debates between lawmakers over the PFD was familiar: the minority calling for a full PFD, the majority calling for more funding of state services. Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, expressing a third opinion, said the statutory formula needs to be debated, “because we can’t continue to have this discussion in this room and in this building ad nauseum.”

The vote to add the full PFD to the bill failed 11-20 with Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, joining the minority to support a $3,000 dividend.

After the amendment vote failed, the House debated the bill itself. Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, said not setting a PFD figure would set up the governor to inevitably veto many of the spending measures again.

Foster said the governor could veto every item in the legislation again but that it was important to send a message to constituents. "For me, at a minimum, it makes a statement about the things that I value, that I care about," he said.

The bill passed 21-10 along caucus lines and now heads to the Alaska Senate for its consideration.

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