Legislature's budget negotiators land on payout up to $3,850/Alaska Redistricting Board appeals
Strange things done at the end of session.
Good morning, Alaska!
In this edition: It’s the final day of session and it’s going to be hard to really know precisely what all happened until the dust settles; but we know that unless legislators are prepared to stay into special sessions the annual payout will be a maximum of $3,850 with $650 of that tied to the three-quarter vote needed to tap into the Constitutional Budget Reserve; Meanwhile, the Alaska Redistricting Board has already appealed Judge Thomas Matthews’ finding that they redid the partisan gerrymander to the Alaska Supreme Court, which has already found the board committed an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.
Legislative day: 121
Current mood: 😬
Strange things done at the end of session
It’s the final day of the legislative session, which means who really knows what’s going on anymore. Floor session calendars are enormous, committees are playing catch-up on must-pass bills and negotiators are playing Tetris while seeing what legislation can be crammed into whatever other legislation that’s more likely to pass. There’s plenty and more to try to track, but here’s a few big things that are on my radar as we enter the final day:
The Senate Finance Committee added Rep. Calvin Schrage’s campaign finance limits legislation into Rep. Sara Rasmussen’s legislation dealing with recalls and other campaign finance issues. The move effectively sidesteps the Sen. Mike Shower’s Senate State Affairs Committee, which had been blocking any and all campaign finance limitations because, as Shower argued, they had far more important things to handle this session. Shower’s reluctance mixed with general Republican disdain for campaign finance limits made it sure look like we’d be heading into this year without any sort of limitations on political spending, but this could change things. Per the Alaska Landmine, the move created quite the stir:
The Senate revived the Alaska Reads Act legislation after it failed to advance out of the House Education Committee last week by inserting it into other education-related legislation, HB114, and passing it out on Tuesday. The legislation includes a minimal increase to the student funding formula—amounting to a roughly $7.6 million annual increase to K-12 funding—along with other changes that the sponsors claim solves the problems raised by Alaska Native communities about the underlying legislation. Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky, D-Bethel, cast the deciding vote against the Alaska Reads Act on Friday because she worried the changes made in the House would be erased in favor of the original Senate version that she said was set up in a way that would harm rural communities and lower-income communities without adequate resources or adequate access to resources to keep up with the legislation’s new standards. The bill is still waiting concurrence in the House.
Legislation banning transgender girls from participating in girls’ school sports finally seemed to die in the Senate on Tuesday. The Legislation was revived late on Monday but a deluge of amendments from the Senate Democrats seemed to ultimately kill the bill as slogging through the amendments would consume the dwindling hours left on the clock. It’s not the end of the road, though, as cramming one bill into another isn’t unique to the Senate. There’s word that Rep. Sarah Vance has an amendment planned for Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson’s mental health education bill Senate Bill 80 that would insert the anti-trans language. The legislation is already a target for Republican culture wars with the House adopting a pair of amendments that would bar mental health education from including any information about gender identity and would also bar schools from working with any groups that provide abortion services. It’s possible that this legislation might just die rather than pick up all these poison pills.
Other legislation near the finish line
House Bill 322, which would formally protect both the Higher Education Investment Fund—an endowment that pays for university scholarships and the state’s participation in the WWAMI medical exchange program—and a pair of Alaska Marine Highways System accounts from the annual sweep. The negotiated budget keeps the $394 million the House set aside to refill the account. It’s currently on the Senate floor with a vote expected today.
House Bill 325, legislation that would extend the state’s definition of domestic violence to include revenge porn. It’s a largely popular bill and is currently on the Senate floor but produced some pretty gross backlash from Reps. David Eastman and Christopher Kurka, who argue there’s nothing violent about it.
Senate Bill 45 would raise the age to purchase all tobacco products to 21 (but would allow possession by people 19 and up). The floor votes in the House have so far seen them ratchet up the taxes on tobacco vapes and other products, which has also produced some very bizarre pushback from Republicans who are just reflexively opposing any and all taxes. Rep. Mike Prax, R-North Pole, took the cake when he suggested higher taxes on vapes will create an “epidemic of depression from everybody just being victims of the government trying to control every aspect of their life.” He really said that. Here’s the video.
A maximum payout of $3,850
The Legislature’s budget negotiators have settled on a lower annual cash payout to Alaskans than the $5,500 approved by the Senate earlier this month and was rejected by the House over the weekend.
Instead, the payout produced by budget negotiators from the House and Senate stands at a maximum of $3,850 split between a $1,300 energy rebate check and a roughly $2,550 dividend, which is equivalent to the 50-50 proposal that Gov. Mike Dunleavy and others have called for in recent months. It, however, ties $650 of the energy rebate payment to a vote that has been near-impossible to secure in recent years.
“We've got a good budget that's balanced,” said Sen. Bert Stedman, the Sitka Republican who co-chairs the Senate Finance Committee and led the budget negotiations. “A good, healthy dividend. A lot of capital to go around the state and a lot of attention to both education, both university and K-12, along with a lot of assistance to our communities. Pretty balanced.”
The proposed payout is quite a bit lower than what was produced by the Senate—which opted for both the $1,300 energy rebate and a dividend according to the statutory formula at a total cost to the state of $3.6 billion—but still vastly larger than the dividends paid out in recent years. The increased spending, which includes much more capital spending and higher spending on K-12 education, has largely been made possible by extremely high oil prices that have been driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Whether the state can bank on that revenue in the long term, though, drove much of the consternation with the large cash payouts and other spending. While some argued that the money was there to be spent, others like Sen. Stedman argued that it’d be wise to put some portion of the state’s windfall into savings. The budget that passed the Senate, however, was one of the largest ever approved by the Alaska Legislature, requiring oil to both stay high and to draw additional money out of savings.