Governor Dunleavy Calls 2nd Special Session in Wasilla to Complete Work on Permanent Fund Dividend
By MARY KAUFFMAN
June 15, 2019
“While the legislature has avoided a no budget scenario, their work is not finished until they provide Alaskans with a full PFD outlined by statute. Today [Thursday] I am calling a second special session in Wasilla so lawmakers can complete their work and follow the law,”said Governor Dunleavy. “At this point, a change in venue is necessary to refocus the conversation and remind lawmakers about the people and their PFD. Once the issue of the PFD is solved, these other budgetary issues will fall into place quickly.”
"The Governor’s statement today [Thursday] is disappointing. It’s ironic for Governor Mike Dunleavy to talk about following the law when he has blatantly ignored or trampled on it in terms of appointment of judges, funding education, and using public funds for his own political purposes. Rather than casting blame, perhaps he should take a little time to reach out to others and build consensus that moves Alaska forward, not just his own personal agenda," wrote Sen. Tom Begich (D-Anchorage) in a prepared statement.
The First Special Session ended this week with the Legislature passing a capital budget (although without funding sources) or any answers on the Permanent Fund Dividend, or K-12 education funding for FY 2020.
Thursday, the Dunleavy administration also released $20 million in school funding that was approved by the Legislature more than a year ago. The Legislature last year fully funded Alaska schools for two years, and set aside $20 million for the school year that just ended and another $30 million for the budget year about to begin. Quoting an Alaska House Majority news release, the House and Senate have voted to allow the Joint Legislative Council Committee to sue the administration if it continues to withhold the funds.
“This is a good first step,” said Senator Gary Stevens (R-Kodiak) chairman of the Senate Education Committee. “I sincerely appreciate the governor’s decision to distribute these funds. It’s my hope that we reach quick resolution on the bulk of K-12 education funding for next year, sparing parents, educators and students from further uncertainty.”
“If the state doesn’t transfer funds to public schools in July, we will ask the court to issue an injunction and allow state funding for schools to continue while the issue is being litigated,” Sen. Stevens added.
Governor Dunleavy called on the Legislature in early May to avoid a precedent-setting constitutional standoff by funding education in the FY2020 budget, which he “will not veto… in any form or fashion.”
According to Governor Dunleavy, both the Alaska House and Senate FY2020 budget’s failed to include funding for education, a position based on the belief that future funding of education was made during the Second Session of the Thirtieth Legislature. However, the 2018 future funding provision failed to include actual dollars and clearly attempted to bind the hands of a future legislature and governor. According to an April 9, 2019 review by the Alaska Attorney General, that action violates the Alaska Constitution’s prohibition against dedicating future revenues and providing for an annual budget where the legislature and the governor can considering annual funding priorities.
During the special session, the Legislature passed an operating budget cutting spending to the lowest level in 15 years while also keeping the State of Alaska on track to avoid a government shutdown when the new fiscal year begins July 1, 2019. If the governor accepts and signs the operating budget, Alaskans will have certainty that the essential services they rely on will continue uninterrupted.
The Legislature also passed House Bill 49, legislation that will make Alaska safe by getting tougher on crime and giving police officers, prosecutors, and public defenders resources they need to succeed.
The House Majority also passed a capital budget that would bring hundreds of millions of federal dollars into the state at the height of the summer construction season, while also investing $10 million to establish new substance abuse treatment beds and paying to implement HB 49. However, the House Minority refused to fund the capital budget, a move that hamstrings the private sector.
With the capital budget and the amount of this year’s Permanent Fund Dividend unresolved, House Speaker Bryce Edgmon (I- Dillingham) committed that the House Majority will continue working until both of these matters are finalized, and he released the following statement:
Edgmon said, "Alaskans hold passionate views not only about the future of the Permanent Fund and the amount of this year's Dividend, but also about investing in K-12 schools and the university system, looking after elders who live in Pioneer Homes, and protecting the many other services that underpin our economy and weave the social fabric of our communities".
"While there is no immediate consensus on the PFD in the Legislature, we fulfilled the most pressing concern by passing a responsible operating budget that keeps the State of Alaska on track to continue providing essential services when the new fiscal year begins in July," said Edgmon.
Edgmon said, "We remain committed to working with the Senate and the administration to find solutions to the immediate and long-term questions surrounding the Permanent Fund and the Dividend program, and to fund a capital budget that empowers the private sector to reach its full potential during the summer construction season.”
“Let me be clear: we are not even close to being finished with the people’s work,” said Rep. Lance Pruitt (R-Anchorage), House Minority Leader. “The House Majority has wasted months of legislative time this year, and now they’re forcing Alaskans to pay for yet another special session so they can continue their delay of necessary government spending reform. Adjourning without answering these important questions is a grave miscarriage of the people’s trust, and I, for one, am extremely disappointed.”
Pruitt added: “We offered solutions to these questions months ago. They decided to start the conversation after 149 days.”
On June 12th the Capital Budget was on the House floor along with Amendment No 1: a full statutory $3,000 Permanent Fund Dividend. With 34 of 36 House members present, Amendment No 1 failed by a vote of 21 to 15. House Majority members (Republicans) all voted for the $3,000 dividend with two Democratic representatives joining them. The House Majority (Democrats) voted against Amendment No 1.
The Alaska Legislative Council (Video), a special committee of 14 legislators that meets outside session, convened four hours on Thursday after the Legislature adjourned and with a vote of 12-2 approved per diem payments retroactive to May 16th, the date the 1st Special Session began. These per diem payments are valued at $302 per day for lawmakers who live at least 50 miles away from the State Capitol.
House Bill 44, passed in 2018, contained a provision that if an operating budget had not passed during the regular session, lawmakers would not be eligible to receive the payments until the budget passed during a special session. The operating budget was passed and sent to the Governor for his signature on Monday, the 26th day of the 1st Special Session.
Senator Tom Begich (D-Anchorage) issued a statement on adjournment: “It is disturbing to me that we could not come together as an institution and pass a balanced budget for the state. That means jobs and federal funding are at risk. There is still work to do. The Senate Democrats are committed to continuing to work together across party and chamber lines to protect the Permanent Fund Dividend in the Constitution for future generations and produce a budget that is balanced that works for all Alaskans in this fiscal climate.”
Senate President Cathy Giessel (R-Anchorage) said, “This Legislature passed the smallest operating budget in more than a decade, made the largest single deposit into the Permanent Fund in history, and strengthened our criminal laws by repealing and replacing Senate Bill 91, but the people’s work is not finished."
“We are committed to working with our colleagues in the House, and the governor, to fully fund a capital budget and reach agreement on the Permanent Fund dividend. As stewards of Alaska’s vast resources, it’s critical we act in the best interest of all Alaskans, including those not yet born,” said Giessel.
According to a news release from Giessel, lawmakers earlier this week established an 8-member bicameral Permanent Fund Working Group, an effort to find a long-term fiscal solution for Alaska and a durable plan for use of earnings from the Permanent Fund.
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