House passes operating budget in quick time but no PFD yet
The Alaska House of Representatives passed an operating budget Tuesday afternoon for the upcoming fiscal year but the Permanent Fund dividend will be considered through other legislation.
The budget came to the floor on day 43 of the ongoing legislative session, the fastest time into a session it has hit the floor in at least a decade.
After several hours of debate on amendments, the operating budget passed 23-16 with no minority members voting in favor of it.
Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, the House minority leader, told the House that dialog between the two caucuses had been “more collegial” than last year but that he couldn’t support the passage of the budget without a dividend.
Kenai Republican Rep. Gary Knopp put the good relations down to the budget proposal introduced by the governor in December that kept state spending virtually flat.
There are some additional spending items in the budget described by Nome Democrat Rep. Neal Foster, the co-chair of the House Finance Committee:
- $7.6 million to help address a growing prisoner population
- $1.7 million added to the court system
- $18 million approved by the House for the ferry system
- $1 million back to go back to public media after the governor vetoed its funding in 2019
The House also kept funding for the University of Alaska at the level agreed to by the Board of Regents and the Governor, meaning the university would see a $25 million cut.
Tuesday morning saw the House debate amendments.
The first amendment, introduced by Rep. David Eastman, a Wasilla Republican, would have seen the Legislature pay a full statutory PFD. The amendment was voted down along caucus lines.
Foster said PFD debates should take place after the budget has passed.
Another amendment introduced by Eastman would have paid back dividends reduced over the past several years by the Legislature.
Pruitt spoke against the idea, saying his constituents have told him to focus on the fiscal challenges at hand. “I believe they would like us to move forward,” he said.
Several members of the minority joined Pruitt and the majority in voting the amendment down.
A couple of dozen more amendments were introduced, mostly by Eastman, but very few would have seen a significant drop in state spending. None that cut spending were adopted.
“This is just step one in a multiple step process,” said Pruitt on why the minority didn’t push harder for bigger budget reductions.
The dividend remains the biggest point of disagreement for lawmakers.
After the House adjourned, Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, the House Speaker, said the PFD would be taken up in the second half of the session. He predicted debates would be much more contentious than the relatively smooth budget debates in the first half of the session.
Rep. Jennifer Johnston, R-Anchorage, said the dividend debates would begin in the House Finance Committee next week. “There will be an additional bill introduced,” she said before describing that bill had been discussed by the majority caucus.
The operating budget will now head over to the Senate.