The final operating budget version for Fiscal Year 2021 has a poison pill in it, a political threat to conservatives, and a big disappointment for Alaskans worried about their financial future.
First, the disappointment: Alaskans won’t get the $1,000 economic stimulus payment that had been in the budget to help them during the current Wuhan virus crisis.
The House and Senate versions of the budget were being hammered out in conference committee on Saturday.
While the Senate version of the bill contains the $1,000 payment for April’s emergency assistance to Alaskans, as well as a $1,000 Permanent Fund dividend October, the House version does not, and the conference committee was weighted toward “no” on the economic stimulus check.
Just Rep. Cathy Tilton and Sen. Donny Olson voted for it the economic relief to Alaskans, while Sen. Bert Stedman, Sen. Natasha Von Imhof, Rep. Neal Foster, and Rep. Jennifer Johnston voted against it.
The Democrat-controlled House Majority and the bipartisan Senate working group majority had another poison pill: If there is not a three-quarter vote to get into the Constitutional Budget Reserve, then the Permanent Fund dividend itself will drop to $500 in October.
But wait, there’s more: The COVID-19 emergency money to help the state economy — some $75 million of unrestricted general funds to be used for emergency response — will not be appropriated by the Legislature if the conservatives vote against tapping the CBR.
It’s an impossible situation for the conservative minority in the House and Senate.
The statutory formula for the dividend is close to $3,000, but it has long been clear that the legislative majority would not abide by statute on the annual oil royalty check to Alaskans.
Now, the budget structure is in place so that if conservatives in the House and Senate vote against tapping the CBR, Alaskans will suffer dire consequences at every level, from their pocketbook to their community’s ability to fight the virus.
The budget hammered out in conference committee must be confirmed by both the House and Senate in what will likely be a fateful vote.
That vote takes place either late Saturday or early Sunday.