JUNEAU, Alaska The first day of the legislative session Tuesday featured fallout from a budget vote last year, as the Alaska Senate shook up its committees and some conservative members cried foul.
Senate President Cathy Giessel said the changes were discussed during an hours-long caucus meeting Tuesday. She said the Republican-led caucus had an agreement that members would vote on the budget and that three members last summer took actions at odds with that.
Sen. Lora Reinbold, an Eagle River Republican, last July voted against a bill aimed at largely restoring vetoes made by Gov. Mike Dunleavy. The bill also included funding for an Alaska Permanent Fund dividend check of about $1,600 to residents. Sens. Mike Shower and Shelley Hughes, who showed up for part of that debate, were shown as excused on the final vote. All three, who had supported a larger dividend in line with Dunleavy’s call to pay the check according to a decades-old formula, lost key positions in the committee shakeup Tuesday.
Reinbold called Tuesday’s actions — affirmed on a 13-7 floor vote — a “restructuring of power” in the Senate.
Rules announced by the caucus ahead of last year’s session said members who “find themselves unable to” vote for the budget would not face automatic removal from the caucus. Rather, it said consequences “will be determined by the caucus and consider the importance of representing constituents.”
Shower, a Wasilla Republican, said Tuesday he was being held to account for an excusal allowed under Senate procedures. He said he saw the committee change-ups as punitive and marginalizing.
Shower was one of two members who lost a seat on the powerful Senate Finance Committee. The other was Sen. Peter Micciche, a Soldotna Republican who was named Senate Resources chair. The finance committee was expanded for last year’s session with what the majority had described as a goal of giving more senators “hands-on roles in the budget process.”
Giessel said Tuesday the winnowing of the finance committee was the choice of the co-chairs, Republicans Bert Stedman and Natasha von Imhof. Returning it to seven members “creates a more nimble committee,” she said, adding that senators will still have input in the process.
Hughes, a Palmer Republican, said she saw the changes as punishment for members’ positions on the dividend.
Some committee changes were expected with a new senator, Josh Revak, on board. He replaced Chris Birch, who died last year. Birch had been the Senate Resources chair.