The House Democrat-led majority says enough is enough: No more budget debate after Friday at noon.
The $4.1 billion budget had 55 amendments as of 1 pm Thursday, most of them cuts put forward by the budget hawks in the Republican minority caucus.
Today, the House majority called those budget reductions a filibuster.
“We just decided basically that enough was enough,” said Rules Chairman Gabrielle LeDoux at a press conference attended by the cobbled together House majority members, made up of mostly Democrats, but also two indeterminates and three Republicans who have thrown their lot in with the Democrats.
“We just spent two and a half hours on an amendment. We have got a fiscal crisis that we’ve got to resolve,” LeDoux said.
“I mean at some point you got to figure out which are the important, the critical amendments, and have a robust debate on those instead of having a few things dribbling here and dribbling there.
The House has more important things to attend to, she said, such as developing new revenue sources from taxes on working Alaskans and oil producers to pay for the bloated budget that the majority is ready to approve.
“We actually have a fiscal crisis and we need to be doing other stuff,” LeDoux said.
The House minority that has fought for lower government spending was loaded for bear.
At their own hastily called press conference this afternoon, they said that if the majority wants to take $4 billion out of the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve to pay for government operations, then there’s nothing more important than combing through the budget first looking for cuts.
ARMED TAX COLLECTORS STOPPED BY HOUSE BUDGET HAWKS
During that fine-tooth process, Republican House members pointed out that a proposed funding transfer from the Department of Revenue to the Department of Public Safety had created armed Revenue tax collection agents.
The funding transfer that would arm tax collectors was voted down, 31-9, when it was pointed out by the House minority.
House Speaker Bryce Edgmon told the press, “We’re now on day four debating, in the 25th hour of debate. We made the decision to basically say look, we’ve had enough and the public has had enough. It’s time to move onto other important legislation in the building.”
Millett said that her caucus was doing its job, not filibustering. Neither she nor former House Speaker Mike Chenault could remember a time when budget debate was simply cut off.
“The budget has not changed, except it has gone up,” Millett said. “There have been no cuts in Finance Committee or on the floor, except for today on per diem.
“We have heard from the public they would like to see a sustainable budget. My caucus is not comfortable with the levels of spending,” she said.
Tempers in both the majority and minority caucuses were noticeably elevated today and the contrast between the two caucuses couldn’t have been more clear. From the Democrat majority press conference, members took the microphone and one by one stated their solidarity:
“It’s a filibuster,” said Democrat Les Gara of Anchorage.
“Time is money,” added Democrat Justin Parish of Juneau.
“It’s time to get on with the State’s business,” said Rep. David Guttenberg, D-Fairbanks.
And in the minority press conference:
“We have pointed out line by line fundamental flaws — and that is our only job,” said Minority Leader Millet.
“Our new Rules chair has been stifling debate,” she said. “We cannot use the word ‘slush fund,’ and can’t use the word ‘bureaucrats.’ We can’t talk about the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve transfer. We should not be rushing this process.”
Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, said she had turned in her amendments last week and was ordered to withdraw them, but she refused.
“We could have done them Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, but they waited until Monday at 11. They weren’t ready,” Wilson said.
“The budget is constitutionally the only thing we have to do while we are down here,” said Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Kenai.
Friday at high noon will be the final chance House minority members will have to present their budget reductions. By Friday afternoon, many legislators will be on Flight 65 bound for Anchorage.
The debate cutoff coincides with the time legislators need to get to the airport to check in for their flights home.