Alaska governor calls special session for Wasilla

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JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska lawmakers ended their special session Thursday already anticipating another, leaving unsettled a state infrastructure budget and the size of dividend check to pay residents this year from Alaska’s oil-wealth fund.

“We will be coming back this summer, and I wanted to assure the public that we are going to absolutely provide a dividend this year,” House Majority Leader Steve Thompson said in a floor speech.

Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy called for the next special session to start July 8 in his hometown of Wasilla, listing the recommended venue of a middle school there.

He said a change of venue was needed to “refocus the conversation.”

Dunleavy’s proclamation deals with the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend, or PFD. “Once the issue of the PFD is solved, these other budgetary issues will fall into place quickly,” he said in a statement.

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon told reporters earlier in the day he didn’t see a special session taking place in Wasilla.

“I think the more productive environment is here in Juneau,” the Dillingham independent said. The Legislative Affairs Agency previously raised concerns with the school site, but Dunleavy spokesman Matt Shuckerow said the facility is “more than adequate.”

The governor can call lawmakers into special session or lawmakers can call themselves into one. Edgmon said lawmakers spoke with Dunleavy Wednesday and said they preferred a special session sometime in July over convening one immediately.

On Thursday, with time running out in this special session, the Senate accepted the remnants of the capital budget the House passed Wednesday.

The House failed to reach the three-quarter threshold required to fund major provisions, which Senate Finance Committee Co-chair Natasha von Imhof said left millions of dollars in projects unfunded and federal match money at risk. Still, there were parts of the budget that were funded, and the Senate opted to move forward with those while acknowledging the need to come to agreement on the remaining elements in the coming weeks.

The time limit on this special session was set to expire Friday. Lawmakers have been meeting in regular or special sessions since mid-January.

Dunleavy has insisted on a full dividend payout this year, equating to checks of roughly $3,000, after three years of reduced payments amid an ongoing budget deficit.

Dividends traditionally have been paid using permanent fund earnings, which lawmakers last year also began using to help fund government, creating tension. The dividend and use of fund earnings is being discussed by a special working group created by the House and Senate to make recommendations in the hopes of breaking a logjam on that issue.

The House, with a bipartisan majority coalition composed largely of Democrats, rejected a full payout Wednesday. The Republican-led Senate, more sharply divided on the issue, rejected a full payout after earlier including one in its version of the state operating budget. Senate President Cathy Giessel has said members of her majority expressed willingness to support a full dividend if the formula were changed going forward.

During this special session, lawmakers did pass legislation aimed at addressing crime concerns.