SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Legislators Choose to Leave Juneau with Unfunded Budget


May 02, 2015
Saturday PM

(SitNews) - Governor Bill Walker said on Thursday that he is disappointed the legislature voted to take a 12-day recess and leave the capital city without passing a fully funded budget. The vote in the House of Representatives was 24-13 with a 15-5 vote in the Senate.

The currently unfunded status could potentially jeopardize the state’s credit ratings, as David Teal, director of the legislative finance division, testified during yesterday’s House Finance hearing.

An unfunded budget creates uncertainty for school districts planning for the upcoming year, undermines the state’s ability to honor its contracts, and compromises the ability of state agencies to provide basic services like transportation and public safety.

“As a nonpartisan Governor, I urge legislators to come back to the negotiating table, set aside their political differences, and cooperate with each other in the best interest of Alaskans,” Governor Walker said. “This current climate of uncertainty is detrimental to Alaskans.”

Thursday, The Alaska House of Representatives voted to hold hearings on the governor’s new Operating Budget at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office and to recess floor sessions while those committees continue.

“Let me be very clear: this is an opportunity for members to go back and meet with their constituents,” Speaker Mike Chenaul t(R-Nikisk) said. “Every bill that is on the special session proclamation is sitting in our Finance Committee, with the exception of HB 44, which we passed to the Senate. Our Finance Committee is not taking a break. They will continue to meet and scrutinize the budget that was just introduced this week and tackle the issue of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.”

The House Finance Committee has two of the three bills on the proclamation: House Bill 1001, the governor’s new Operating Budget, and HB 148, the Medicaid expansion bill. The third bill, HB 44, Sexual Assault Prevention Programs, was passed by the House April 18, 2015.

House Concurrent Resolution 101 states that the full membership of both bodies is not required to meet for daily floor sessions during the time that the finance committees are conducting hearings.

“The goal of this resolution is to allow our finance colleagues time to do the due diligence of assessing these new budget numbers, and receive feedback from the public and experts,” Majority Leader Charisse Millett (R-Anchorage) said. “Those of us not on the Finance Committee will be following their work closely, as well as getting community input and perspectives.”

Senate Democrats (Minority) also expressed disappointment in the introduction and passage of a concurrent resolution by the House and Senate Republicans (Majorities) self-authorizing a two week vacation.

The “vacation resolution” was passed after the House and Senate Majorities blew past the voter mandated 90 day session by 8 days only to pass a partially funded budget that relied on a draining $1.3 billion from the Public Education Fund and starving the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation of needed funds to advance an Alaska Gasline. Governor Walker issued an immediate proclamation calling for a special session to pass a fully funded budget, Erin’s Law, and the expansion of Medicaid.

“Alaskans understand you don’t get to go to recess unless you complete your work. We do not support this action today [Thursday]. We want to work and fulfill both our constitutional obligations and the commitments we made to our constituents,” stated Senator Berta Gardner (D-Anchorage).

During this year’s session, Senate Democrats said they offered opportunities for an additional $750 million of budgetary savings in the operating and capital budgets. They also offered bills and amendments supporting the expansion of Medicaid and keeping our promises to Alaska’s children by fully funding K-12 public education. Democrats have also advocated for passage of Erin’s Law and honoring Alaska's contractual obligations to Alaska’s public employees.

Alaska Independent Democratic Coalition members opposed the legislative break. In a prepared statement, the AIDC said the Majority organizations in the House and Senate voted to give themselves a vacation by passing House Concurrent Resolution 101. It allows both bodies to recess until May 12. HCR 101 was passed along caucus lines. All thirteen members of the Alaska Independent Democratic Coalition and the five members of the Alaska Senate Democrats opposed the resolution.

“Every member of the House and Senate was elected to do the people’s business. Through their actions, the Republican-controlled Majorities have chosen to set that business aside while they take a vacation,” said Alaska Independent Democratic Coalition Leader Representative Chris Tuck (D-Anchorage). “The Governor called us into special session to fix the Majority-approved budget that spends more than $3 billion more than the state is projected to make this year. It’s not fixed. We were asked to take up Medicaid expansion. It’s not been taken up. The people of Alaska deserve continued effort on these important pieces of legislation. Today’s action by the Majorities ensures that effort won’t occur anytime soon. It’s shameful.”

Governor Bill Walker called the Alaska Legislature in to special session on April 27 on the operating budget, Medicaid expansion, and House Bill 44. Since that time, the Majorities have only held four hearings, none of which were focused on HB 44, which would implement Erin’s Law in Alaska. It’s anticipated the bill will be taken up when the Legislature returns from recess on May 12. Erin’s Law is named for child sex abuse survivor Erin Merryn, whose life’s work is to pass the law in all 50 states. The law requires that youth be taught a personal body safety curriculum that gives them information to keep them safe from child sex abusers.

“Erin’s Law has been a priority piece of legislation for the Governor since the start of session. So much so that he called for passage in his State of the State address,” said Representative Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage) who has sponsored Erin’s Law legislation for the past two years. “Alaska’s rates of child sexual abuse lead the nation. Ten Alaskan kids are sexually abused every day. The Majority has disregarded the will of the Governor and, in my opinion, the will of the people by refusing to take up Erin’s Law during this special session.”

Thursday’s passage of HCR 101 will result in a halt of all legislative activity except for proposed hearings by the House and Senate Finance Committees to be held in locations outside of Juneau. The 13 members of the Alaska Independent Democratic Coalition opposed the resolution and and stated they believe it’s irresponsible to halt nearly all legislative activity while Majority lawmakers take a vacation from their elected responsibilities.

“This move to shutdown legislative activity calls into question the Majority’s commitment to Juneau as Alaska’s capital city,” said Representative Sam Kito (D-Juneau). “The Capitol building can be used without interruption for the next couple of weeks before the large scale renovation project ramps up fully. If that’s not enough time, other accommodations are available to host the Legislature. This includes large spaces for floor sessions and adequate office space for lawmakers as they deliberate the very important pieces of legislation the Governor called us into special session to consider.”

Alaska Independent Democratic Coalition members expect all 60 members of the Alaska Legislature back in Juneau on May 12. That only gives lawmakers two weeks to work on a fully funded budget, Medicaid expansion, and Erin’s Law.

Preparation work for summer-long building renovations has already started on the Capitol in Juneau and will require relocation of offices and staff. A majority of session staff and equipment have already been sent back to districts, and the governor’s office is relocating as well because of the construction’s impact.


Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews


Source of News:

Office of the Governor

House Majority (Republicans)

Senate Democrats

Alaska Independent Democratic Coalition


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