Alaska senate passes spending cap after democrats walk out in protest

Sen. Berta Gardner leads members of the senate minority out of the chamber in protest. (Gavel...
Sen. Berta Gardner leads members of the senate minority out of the chamber in protest. (Gavel to Gavel) (KTUU)
Published: Mar. 23, 2018 at 6:04 PM AKDT
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The Alaska Senate passed a spending cap bill Friday afternoon, though the minority democrats weren’t in attendance for the vote out of protest.

Senate Democrats abruptly walked out of the hearing after three amendments offered by Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, related to the permanent fund, were rejected by Senate President Pete Kelly as “not germane” to the bill at hand, and therefore out of order. The bill under debate, Senate Bill 196, set a $4.1 billion spending cap for the state.

Wielechowski’s amendments concerned the Permanent Fund dividend and whether it could be paid within the appropriations limit. Wielechowski said that Kelly’s rulings stifled debate and prevented a vote on how Permanent Fund dividends and the use of the Permanent Fund’s earnings for state government fit into the cap.

Minority leader Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, led the walk-out.

“This afternoon today, my colleagues and I offered three amendments which were deemed ‘not germane,’” Gardner said on the Senate floor. “We believe they were not only germane, clearly germane, they were also important,” she continued. “They were of great interest to Alaskans across the state. And finally, with all due respect, Mr. Chair, just because the chair says something is so, and the caucus members are obligated to follow their leader, does not make it so. And Mr. Chair, with that, we protest those rulings about things not being germane.”

Then, at 2:28 p.m., Gardner and the other members of the minority caucus — Sens. Wielechowski, Tom Begich, D-Anchorage; Donny Olson, D-Golovin; and Dennis Egan, D-Juneau — left their seats and walked out of the chambers. After a very brief at-ease, Sen. Anna MacKinnon addressed their departure.

“It’s unfortunate that the minority leader has chosen to depart the chambers and not actually show me or other members of the Senate the same respect that we show them when they have a counter opinion,” MacKinnon said.

While the Democrats had walked out, Sen. Bert Stedman, a Republican from Sitka, had placed a “call on the Senate,” which would have allowed the missing members to be hauled back into the chamber, including by arrest, but after a brief break, Stedman withdrew his call. The Democratic Senators said they would have returned to the Senate chamber voluntarily.

The Senate majority proceeded with the vote without the Democrats, passing the spending cap 13-0.

A prepared statement from the Senate Majority said the spending limit is a key priority for the caucus, and that this year’s standalone bill would hopefully simplify negotiations with the House on a solution to the state’s budget deficit.

The bill now goes to the Alaska House of Representatives.