The State of Alaska’s operating and capital budgets were accomplished at lightning speed this year, as these things go legislatively.
On Day 69 of the 121-day constitutionally limited session, the House and Senate passed the two main budgets for the State of Alaska that tapped much of the remaining Constitutional Budget Reserve, and ensures that Alaskans will get one-third of their statutorily defined Permanent Fund dividend.
The House and Senate recessed after 1:30 am on Sunday. If necessary, they can reconvene before they must gavel out of regular session, and most legislators were scheduled to leave Juneau on flights today.
The COVID-19 virus response requested by Gov. Mike Dunleavy passed, but was held hostage by budgetary maneuvers that forced lawmakers to choose between appropriating a $1,000 Permanent Fund dividend in the fall, or a $500 dividend. Those who have defended a full statutory PFD said they felt bullied and extorted by the move.
The budget will be deeply disappointing to some, who had had their hopes raised by legislative leaders that an immediate aid check of $1,000 would be issued in April. That was stripped out by the House Democrat-led Majority and not restored in the conference committee negotiations.
The operating budget:
- Ensured that no State worker will lose current wages or benefits or face furloughs. All step and merit pay increases will continue.
- Added money to the Alaska Pioneers Home and another $21 million for low income seniors in the Senior Benefits program.
- Added $1.055 billion to the corpus of the Permanent Fund.
- Increased funding for State Troopers and Village Public Safety Officers by $165 million, a request from the governor.
- Included Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s disaster response funding of $75 million for the Department of Health and Social Services, $5 million for the Disaster Relief Fund, $5 million for the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation, and $2.7 million for the public health services at the Municipality of Anchorage.
- Made a $30 million grant to the Department of Education.
- Ensured public radio and television are fully funded.
- Ensured 100 percent school bond debt reimbursement for localities and increased community assistance grants.
“Today was a victory for Alaska’s first responders and frontline healthcare workers who now have additional tools to keep our people safe and healthy,” said House Finance Co-Chair Neal Foster, a Nome Democrat.
“We’ve done magnificent work,” said Rep. Andy Josephson, an Anchorage Democrat.
Democrat Andi Story of Juneau lauded the budget, because it restored money to public broadcasting and ferries.
“I’m proud of the thorough, hard work that was done to craft a budget amid a rapidly evolving public health and economic crisis,” said House Finance Co-Chair Jennifer Johnston, an Anchorage Republican. “Because of today’s vote, the workers who keep our state running – doctors and nurses, firefighters and troopers – will be able to keep doing their jobs without the risk of interruption due to a lack of funding.”
Rep. Cathy Tilton of Chugiak-Mat-Su said it was unfair for the Senate to have issued a press release telling Alaskans they were going to get a $1,000 economic relief check this spring, only to have that taken away.
“I believe in expectation management, and shame on us because we got their expectations up,” she said. “We have heard from economists that the best thing we can do right now is get money into the hands of the people.”
Tilton, who had served as a conservative minority member of the conference committee, also said that linking the fall dividend amount to the COVID-19 response package was playing with people’s lives.
“Former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel famously said, ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste.’ All I can say is ‘Bravo,'” Tilton said.