The budget solution doesn’t stop with Speaker Bryce Edgmon.
In an odd press conference today, Edgmon appeared alone, without any of his House majority colleagues, and explained that the buck stops with the House Republican minority, not the majority.
As he sat in the Speaker’s Chambers, facing questions from reporters, he said he doesn’t consider the budget a responsibility of just the majority.
The conservative minority was obstructing progress, he said.
Reporters were not buying it. Even Rich Mauer, the notoriously liberal journalist now reporting for KTUU, seemed skeptical.
“We need to have the difficult discussion on new revenues, I think that is very apparent,” Edgmon said, restating his party’s view that there is a need for an income tax to pay for what has become, under his watch, a $5 billion budget.
An income tax solution is not apparent to House Republicans. The conservative minority had offered dozens of amendments last week to lower the overall budget. On Monday, both liberals and conservatives voted across caucus lines to boost the Permanent Fund dividend to $2,700 this year.
That much was agreed on by a slim majority that felt it was time to go back to the time-honored formula for calculating the dividend.
House Minority Charisse Millett had earlier offered a different view of reality.
Millett had told a reporter from KTOO: “The three Republicans organized with the Democrats and independents because they had the plan. They had the votes. They were all aligned on Alaska’s future. And we’re seeing now that the alignment is not there. Unfortunately, when you are in leadership, and you’re the Speaker, it’s your obligation with 22 people to get the budget passed with 21.”
Edgmon didn’t like that characterization, answering, “I don’t reduce this to sort of carping about majority and minority politics and being more part of the problem, as opposed to part of the solution.”
But he admitted the body is at an impasse. “I’m trying to find a way that we get an operating budget passed, that we somehow find a consensus point between the many competing viewpoints, not just on the budget itself, but on the annual Permanent Fund dividend,” he said.
It wasn’t long, however, before Edgmon blamed Republicans for blocking the majority’s will to enact an income tax, as it has tried to do for two years.
“The minority is not willing to come to consensus. Their whole goal is to obstruct, to delay, to stymie,” he said.
“You’re not going to hear me in the media throwing political salvos at [Millett’s] coalition or anyone for that matter because that’s not going to get us closer to the solution at this point.”
Edgmon went on to say that a larger dividend, such as the one approved by a slim majority of the House on Monday, was not likely to be sustainable into the future.
HOUSE MAJORITY RUNNING OUT OF RUNWAY
Edgmon had begun his remarks by admitting the House was in a budget impasse that “has been obvious to everyone.”
“Our coalition, we took the political risk last year and we’re at the point where we’ve not been able to find the consensus to get the operating budget off the floor.”
Earlier in the day, Edgmon was forced to conduct a “technical session,” essentially gaveling in and out without getting work done because of the chaos in his caucus.
But even that was a struggle for the Democratic-controlled majority.
Why not a regular session on Day 72? If no House floor session today, would it be likely to pass a budget on Good Friday? Easter Monday? Or is the House really willing to hand over the operating budget to the Senate on Day 80, leaving the Senate only 10 days to process the funding plan for state services next year?
In that scenario, the 120-day session is almost a certainty.
And yet Wednesday’s House meltdown was worse when the technical session suddenly had a quorum, and business might have been conducted.
When all 17 Republican members showed up for the technical session, with their sleeves rolled up and ready to work, four of the Democrats also showed up. It was a miscount on the Speaker and House Majority Leader Chris Tuck’s part.
Work could actually get done.
Speaker Edgmon hastily called an at-ease so he could shoo Rep. Daniel Ortiz from the House Chamber, therefore ensuring Edgmon did not have enough members to conduct business.
Then Rep. Harriet Drummond walked out of the Chambers, to give added insurance there would not be a quorum.
The House Democrat-led majority starts Thursday in a state of disarray, having ended Wednesday unable to even figure out how many people they need to not show up in order for them to not get any business done.