The third special session during the 2021 calendar year is turning out to be another bust, even as it winds its way to the end on Wednesday night. A fourth special session is surely on the way, but the governor has only hinted at it, and has not yet set a date for it.
The main purpose of the fourth special session is determining a Permanent Fund dividend, which remains entrenched as the third rail of Alaska politics.
As Alaska turns the corner to fall, there is still no dividend, which is a statutory obligation of the government. Every year of the Dunleavy Administration, the Legislature has blocked the release of the full statutory amount for Alaskans.
The House passed HB 3003, a spending bill for dividends of $1,100 per person, less than a third of the statutory amount. The bill has languished in Senate Finance for weeks but appears to be heading for a floor debate and vote on Sunday afternoon.
The comprehensive fiscal plan working group, which the Legislature formed to come up with a fiscal solution, met in July and August, but has not seen its work adopted by the Legislature.
There has also been a little activity recently on the governor’s request for a resolution that would allow voters to put the 50-50 Permanent Fund dividend calculation into the Alaska Constitution. Senate Bill 53 is queued up for a floor debate and vote.
There’s no spending limit to be placed before voters for consideration as a constitutional amendment, and even critical legislation to get more medical professionals in the state is bogged down; Rep. Zack Fields of Anchorage has said the bill that would allow the transfer of nursing licenses from other states will pass over his dead body.
The one bill that has moved at a pace is the governor’s Telehealth bill, which passed the Senate on Friday. It will take a bit of the pressure off of medical facilities round the state, allowing them to bring more staff in — if they can find staff to hire at all. Stripped from the bill by Democrats were protections for Alaskans from vaccine mandates that were added to the bill in the Senate.
Democrats and some Republicans are advancing various taxes, such as Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich’s corporate income taxes and fuel taxes, while over in the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Ivy Spohnholz is trying to advance a 75-25 Permanent Fund dividend proposal — the government gets 75 percent, and the people get 25 percent, combined with revenue measures like taxes.
Led by Democrats and turncoat Republicans, the House has only met for a regular floor session five times since the third special session convened Aug. 16.
The Senate has met in a regular floor session just seven times. The rest of their obligatory meetings have been “technical sessions” — gavel in and gavel out, with only a couple of people present.
So far, the Legislature will have been in session for 186 days this year, and another special session will bring the time to 216 days, or 61 percent of the year’s calendar.