It's almost nearly time for the budget

In this edition: A look at what’s going on with the budget, the view from Anchorage’s soon-to-be-certified election results, the daily agenda, some neat articles and a timely national poll.

Good morning, Alaska! It’s Day 91 and we’ve finally crossed the voter-approved 90-day session and are into the Alaska Constitution’s 121-day session.

In this edition: A look at what’s going on with the budget, the view from Anchorage’s soon-to-be-certified election results, the daily agenda, some neat articles and a timely national poll.

It’s all about the budget

It may be Day 91, but the Legislature is nowhere near done with its main legislative task: Passing a budget. The House Finance Committee is expected to get underway with the budget in earnest this week. It has already heard closeouts from the subcommittees, public testimony and several informational hearings on the pending federal relief dollars. Still left to do in the House Finance Committee is roll out the new version of the budget and hear amendments before advancing it to the floor for what will be a nightmarishly long floor session(s) where we should expect more loads more amendments from the Republican minority. Then it’s over to the Senate, which has done about as much preparation on the budget as possible.

The slow-roll on the budget is particularly frustrating for school districts and teachers, who will likely face another round of pre-emptive layoff notices given the uncertainty of the budget situation. To head off yet another round of uncertainty that frequently leaves young teachers wondering “Should I just move to another state that takes education more seriously? At least I can also get a real retirement plan,” the House Finance Committee is pushing legislation that would fund K-12 education at a status quo level ahead of the budget. The idea’s been offered in the past with middling success.

The big unknowns moving ahead are, of course, going to be the size of the dividend (which is currently slated to to be taken up separately from the budget) and the use of federal relief dollars. As it’s been on day one, the question on the dividend is just how big it’ll be and how willing legislators are to overspend from the Alaska Permanent Fund’s earnings reserve account. The bigger the dividend, the more they will overspend (especially when there aren’t cuts or revenue on the table), leaving less money in the account to invest, which means less investment revenue and bigger deficits in the future. It’s quite literally the embodiment of robbing tomorrow to pay for today, but following last year’s elections we’re probably closer to that than we have been in recent years.

The other big decision point is how the state will use about $1.1 billion in federal relief dollars. The Legislature hasn’t put a clear foot forward on this other than a few leaders talking about stretching it out to soften the deficit over the next several years while Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced his proposal on Friday with most of it going to new programs—$150 million for tourism, $325 million for economic relief and revitalization and $325 million for infrastructure—aimed at economic development. Just $139.26 million would be saved to offset the deficit.

All of that is to say, that the Legislature will definitely be running up against the 121-day deadline set by the Alaska Constitution.

The view from Anchorage

Anchorage elections workers conducted their public canvass during a lengthy meeting on Friday night. Very little changed from the hearing and only a sliver of the roughly 1,500 rejected ballots were validated and counted. Interestingly, signatures that didn’t match between the return envelope and what was on file was the leading reason for rejected ballots. Nearly 900 were rejected on these grounds.

As it stands, Dunbar and Bronson will head to the mayoral run-off with Bronson holding a 2-point lead over Dunbar. Anchorage Assembly Chairman Felix Rivera handily escaped recall. All but two props—the police car and areawide capital improvement bonds (health codes and public safety upgrades)—passed. In the four Anchorage School Board Seats, all progressive have held onto their leads. The closest race, the race for School Board Seat B, will head to an automatic recount with progressive candidate Kelly Lessens holding a .36-point lead over July Eledge.

The results are set to be certified at the Anchorage Assembly meeting on Tuesday.

The Dunleavy playbook: With the mayoral run off underway, it looks like conservative candidate Dave Bronson has taken a page out of candidate Mike Dunleavy’s book and is skipping out on forums rather than risk letting people get a good look at who he is. Alaska Black Caucus president and CEO Celeste Hodge Growden said at the start of the weekend’s BIPOC Mayoral Candidate’s Forum that Bronson “has a conflict.”

“It's unfortunate because Mr. Bronson was not able to make it to our first forum or, from what I'm told, any BIPOC forum to discuss issues and concerns of our communities," she said. "It's also disappointing because many from our communities have never met Mr. Bronson and have no idea where he stands on issues we care about."

So instead, Dunbar got an undivided audience.

On the agenda

As always, find the full agenda here. Here’s what caught my eye today:

10:30 a.m. House Floor Session — HB 3 by Rep. Johnson to add cybersecurity threats to the state’s definition of disaster; SJR 8 by Sen. Stevens supporting land grants to the University of Alaska. Neither of these proposals would be all that controversial under the normal course of business, but the House has been anything but normal this year.

1 p.m. House Judiciary — House Bill 66 by Tuck, the Democrats’ response to Republican election bills. This would expand optional by-mail voting by allowing people to permanently register to receive their ballots this way, creates same-day registration and ballot curing. At the initial hearing, some Republicans seemed supportive of the concepts.

1:30 p.m. House Finance — House Bill 169 by House Finance to fund education separately and early from the rest of the budget.

Reading list

  • By the numbers, there’s a link between Trump voters and vaccine hesitancy but it could be a lot more complicated than that. Politics is one of the factors, sure, but there are other factors like access, underlying distrust of medicine among minority communities who’ve been historically victimized by medicine and, frankly, the growing narrative that vaccines are political. From Axios: When vaccine hesitancy becomes political

  • Alaska’s U.S. Rep. Don Young and Sen. Lisa Murkowski are shooting for a little bit of Alaska-focused bipartisanship on Biden’s infrastructure bill. “Even on my side, some people don’t want to do anything,” Young said, referring to Republicans in Congress. “But I argue that this country, to survive, it has to have a better economic basis of transportation. And it’s not just jobs. This is for the future.” From Alaska Public Media: Young, Murkowski aim to shape Biden’s infrastructure bill

  • Some villages are hitting vaccination rates in the 80% range and they’re also some of the most remote communities, a reflection of the ongoing success Alaska Native health providers and communities have had with the vaccination roll out. From Associated Press via the ADN: Some remote Alaska villages achieve high vaccination rates

Tomorrow’s 4/20 and it’s popular as ever

According to the latest poll conducted by the Pew Research Center, fewer than 10% of adults in the U.S. say marijuana should be illegal no matter what. The news of broad political support comes as Democrats in Congress are considering legislation that would decriminalize marijuana nationally.