It's budget closeout week in the House

The budget finally begins to take shape, but what about that dividend?

Good morning, Alaska! It’s Day 63 of the 32nd Legislature, March Madness is leaning into the madness and the lights were really out this weekend… apparently.

It’s budget closeout week in the House, where the budget subcommittees that we’ve all been meaning to pay better attention to will put together their proposed changes to the governor’s budget following weeks of overviews and presentations on the budget. It’s a process aimed at breaking down the state’s budget into more bite-sized pieces for legislators to really dive into… with varying degrees of success. Those recommendations will go to the House Finance Committee to come together in a rewritten budget, we’ll get several days of public testimony, some more amendments and it’ll be headed to the House floor where everyone will get a shot at amending the budget.

The budget is about a month behind the regular process right now, which makes sense given the late start of the House, and pretty much everyone expects session to run long this year. It’s nearly certain they’ll hit the 121-day session in the Alaska Constitution plus the 10-day extension and, if they can muster the votes, take things into a special session. As the budget takes center stage with the closeouts, the scope and scale of the state’s financial problems should start to come into clearer focus. Despite marginally better revenue forecasts and boosted federal relief money, the state still faces a structural deficit that will continue to drag down the state as long as it goes unresolved. As budget analysts have said, it’ll take an all-of-the-above approach to fix it with service cuts, new revenues and a durable solution to the dividend. We’ve had plenty of hearings to get a handle on the budget problems but it’s the hope that with the budget in front of legislators that they’ll start talking solutions.

Several legislators in both the House and Senate have put forward revenue proposals that all face a tough uphill challenge with a governor dead-set on putting any and all broad-based tax proposals on the ballot. At the end of the day, the elephant in the budget is going to be the dividend… which is not actually currently in the budget but in a separate proposal. While House leadership seems to want to keep the budget and the dividend separate, there will be opportunities in the House Finance Committee and on the House floor for amendments to insert the divided into the bill. And given the growing number of dividend supporters following last year’s elections, it the numbers may actually be there for a boosted dividend despite all the red flags (a hit to future investment revenue that will only grow the deficit, risking the future funding of both state government and the dividend).

Regardless of the outcome, I’m personally looking forward to some meatier policy discussions. I’m just very, very over the anti-masking antics.

On the agenda

Find the full schedule here, but here’s some of what I think looks interesting for today’s agenda:

9 a.m. Senate Education — SB 80 by Sen. Gray-Jackson to include mental health curriculum in K-12 health classrooms, SB 10 by Sen. Begich to establish a free and reduced tuition higher education program for essential workers, SB 6 by Sen. Kawasaki creating a retirement incentive program for public employees and teachers. Bills by minority caucus legislators in both chambers have been getting some traction this year, which is a welcome sight after many years where minority legislation would be ignored altogether. The essential worker tuition program has already been through one committee where it was pretty well-received.

9 a.m. Senate Finance — It’s apparently Sen. Gary Stevens Day here, where the Kodiak Republican senator’s SB 19 to extend the special education service agency, SB 32 establishing a middle college program for high school students to start working on their college credits (some districts are already doing this with UA), and SB 36 would set up a reporting requirement for the University of Alaska on accreditation problems in light of the University of Alaska Anchorage’s School of Education losing its accreditation.

10:30 a.m. House Floor — After a very lengthy debate on Saturday about the Legislature’s uniform rules courtesy of Rep. David Eastman and company, the House failed to actually adopt the rules by falling a single vote short. They have another shot today.

1 p.m. House Finance budget subcommittee on Judiciary — Closeout

1:30 p.m. House Finance Committee — presentation on the Alaska Marine Highway System and a hearing on HB 76 to extend the pandemic disaster declaration

1:30 p.m. Senate Judiciary Committee — If you really need a trip into mean-spirited gaslighting, the Senate Judiciary Committee has you covered with a hearing on Sen. Costello’s SB 15 that’d hold everyone (except the Legislature) personally accountable for open meetings act violations. Everyone, including volunteer commissioners and board members, (except legislators) could be hit with several thousand dollar fines in what’s clearly a measure inspired by the extreme-right Save Anchorage group’s feud with the Anchorage Assembly.

3 p.m. UAA Women’s basketball plays Multnomah

3:15 House Finance budget subcommittee on Revenue — Closeout

From around the web

  • The Juneau-Douglas Yadaa.at Kalé Crimson Bears boys basketball team crushed in the Region V 4A basketball tournament but covid has crushed their hopes of a state title. But just not on their team. The district’s superintendent notified families Sunday that their travel to a “red alert” area of the state (the Mat-Su) wouldn’t be approved. “For me to send kids and families up into the high-alert area and then potentially come back and begin a bit of a spike here would be just unconscionable,” District Superintendent Bridge Weiss told KINY. From KINY: Region Champion’s State Title Hopes Cancelled by COVID

  • GCI is moving its Alaska-based call center to the Philippines in late summer, citing problems with hiring and keeping enough call center employees here. As someone who’s spent a lot of time on the phone with GCI customer service, it’s never been all that great unless you called so many times that you could finally get on the phone with the technician who lets you know that some routers just don’t play nice with GCI’s internet for some reason. From the News-Miner: GCI moving its Alaska call center overseas

  • Of all the things the Dunleavy administration has been getting up to lately is a proposal allowing snowmachines and ATVs onto roads with 45 mph speed limits and lower. To which most folks would say, wait, they weren’t already allowed on them? From Dermot Cole: With no safety analysis, Dunleavy launches reckless plan to open 45 mph roads to snowmachines, ATVs

Weekend lights

They were… apparently very good this weekend. I will stay up past 11 p.m. one of these days.