Legislators Choose to Leave Juneau with Unfunded Budget
May 02, 2015
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.
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.
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
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