The House Democrat-led majority tonight passed one of the largest budgets in Alaska history — and one that would shut down government for at least 70 days starting July 1.
The only thing standing between Alaskans and a government shutdown is the Senate, which stands in adjournment until 11 am on Friday. If the Senate agrees with the House, state government will shut down July 1.
There are two reasons the House’s $12.1 billion budget requires a shutdown:
1. The Democrat-led majority failed to pass an effective date clause, which means the budget cannot go into effect until 90 days after the governor signs it.
2. The Democrat-led majority adjourned “sine die,” which means the House Democrats are heading for the airport, while House Republicans remained stunned at what just happened.
Republicans were dismayed at the recklessness of the move. Observers in the Capitol said the process was unheard of, and was also disrespectful to the institution. Members in the Republican minority were only allowed to speak for two minutes apiece about the hastily put together dual budget, with Speaker Bryce Edgmon abruptly shutting them off and rushing to the vote.
By 9:10 pm Thursday it was all over.
The evening started with a surprise floor session, which was hastily called while the minority was having supper.
After days of cancelled sessions and conference committees, and with just 15 minutes notice, Speaker Edgmon called an evening floor session, and when Republicans arrived, House Majority Leader Chris Tuck quickly moved to rescind the capital budget, SB 23. The majority Democrats agreed and the capital budget was rescinded.
Then papers were quickly passed out to members, and it became apparent that the amendment that was about to be made would stuff the entire operating budget into the capital budget and the majority would pass the two budgets as one.
No one in the House minority had ever read this new version of the operating budget.
The Democrats’ plan worked to get out of town, and the votes went quickly 22-18, with Democrats and their Muskox Republicans voting for the shutdown.
BUDGET TAKES NEARLY HALF OF EARNINGS RESERVE ACCOUNT
The Republican minority objected repeatedly to being ambushed with an 89-page bill they had not read. But it was to no avail. But here are the large pieces: The House Democrats’ budget is among the largest in Alaska history at over $12 billion, and removes $5.2 billion from the Earnings Reserve Account — the account from which the Permanent Fund dividend is paid. It would leave just $6.5 billion in the ERA.
It seemed like a surprise move, but it had been in the works, at least for 24 hours. Today Speaker Edgmon was negotiating in what seemed to be good faith with Sen. Lyman Hoffman, the senator from his own district and from his own party. But, all the while, the representative from Dillingham knew he had an 89-page bombshell amendment in his back pocket. That amendment was dated Wednesday.
Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Kenai, shook his head. “I’ve been here 17 years and this is the worst I’ve seen. I’ve never seen a process that was this disrespectful to the institution and to the decorum of the body,” he said.
Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, said that thumbing through the amendment, it was impossible to tell what was in it, as the budget is a highly technical document. He compared the process to tyranny.
But Rep. Chris Birch, R-Anchorage said it just reminded him of Nancy Pelosi standing with Barack Obama as he signed the Affordable Care Act into law. Pelosi said, Birch reminded the members, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.” That was what happened tonight, he said.
None of the Democrats spoke during the floor session, except Rep. Paul Seaton and Rep. Neal Foster, who were introducing the amendment that would result in a shutdown.
The Senate is left with few choices. It can disallow the bill to be read across, or it can accept it and debate it. But without an effective date clause, the Senate is unlikely to sign on.
What’s left is the governor having to call the entire Legislature back into a second special session.
For most of the 2017 Session, Gov. Bill Walker has been aligned with and sympathetic of the House majority’s core priorities. That is no longer the case. Governor Walker expressed disappointment with the House’s hasty and irresponsible action.
“They did not get the job done for Alaska. A compromise is required to protect Alaskans and put the state on a stable fiscal path,” he said on Twitter. Stand by for round two: Yet another costly and wasteful session.