JUNEAU, Alaska Fifteen days into its Special Session, the legislature has yet to pass any budgets.
Today marks the halfway point. It's the latest in a line special sessions, with last year being the exception. The only bill passed thus far is the crime reform package HB 49. It was approved by the House last week, and the Senate earlier this week. The only votes against the bill between the two bodies were interior democratic representatives Adam Wool and Grier Hopkins. When the governor signs it into law, it will replace SB 91, which has faced public criticism ever since it was passed.
"I'm really happy that we got the crime legislation bill taken care of;" began Representative Dave Talerico; "I think that was very appropriate and that's done, but you know, we're still dealing with Capital Budget, the Mental Health Budget, which usually isn't controversial, is still out there and needs to be approved, and of course, the Permenant Fund Dividend."
The Dividend supplied more drama for the fourth year in a row. It's been three years since Alaskans have been paid the full amount. Governor Mike Dunleavy has made it clear that he wants the current calculation while the legislature has called into question if it is sustainable. Thus, HB 1005 was introduced, to allow the PFD calculation to change in future years. In public testimony, Citizens overwhelmingly spoke against changing the PFD.
"The Governor has been very clear that he wants the statuary formula," said Senaotr John Coghill. "You're talking about nearly $2 billion to pay a Dividend at the size the government wants, $1.9 billion, and most of us know that that is unsustainable going forward."
Legal action may be coming the legislature's way, as Dunleavy's Administration, along with the State's Attorney General Kevin Clarkson, called into question forward funding, or pledging income not yet acquired by the state.
The Legislature doubled-downed on the funding method it has used on education for years, by allowing legal action to be taken to defend their decision. The Governor said in a press conference a few days ago that doesn't plan on vetoing education funding for this coming year, but he expects the suit to still happen.
"The Legislature has the power of the purse, and with the power of the purse comes the priority of education," stated Senator Scott Kawasaki. "We need to make sure education is funded, not just today, not just next year, but in future years. So that's why forward funding has always been a good tool to use. I think it's totally appropriate to find out what judges will say regarding future funding."
We're a little more than a month away from Fiscal Year 2020, and there are a lot of decisions yet to be made. Dunleavy is showing signs of concern about the legislature finishing on time. Yesterday, his office released letters to State employees stating that if a State Budget is not finalized in 15 days, layoff notices will have to go out per the terms of employment agreements. The House and the Senate are now gaveled out until Monday.