On a vote of 12-7, the Alaska Senate passed the largest Permanent Fund dividend in history today in the operating budget. The budget, which started in the House, has $400 million in amendments, a full statutory Permanent Fund dividend, and an energy assistance check for Alaskans. Between those two checks, it’s a life-transforming $5,500 in payments to eligible Alaskans — if the House of Representatives agrees.
The House will now take a look at the additions to the budget and either accept it or reject it. If rejected, it would go to a conference committee to negotiate a middle ground.
But it all may come down to abortion. The $5,500 PFD-energy payment hinges on a few key house votes in the House. Members like Rep. David Eastman and Rep. Chris Kurka of Wasilla may not vote to concur with the budget due to a minor Medicaid abortion provision.
A majority vote to not concur would bounce the entire budget into conference committee, where the $5,500 PFD would be pared down significantly.
Voting against the Senate version of the budget were Senate Democrats Tom Begich, Lyman Hoffman, and Jesse Kiehl, along with Republicans Josh Revak and Natasha Von Imhof, who was livid about the large payout to Alaskans
The Senate budget has $280 million for big projects, including $100 million for repairs to the Port of Alaska in Anchorage, and $150 million for the expansion of the Port of Nome. Another $30 million was budgeted for finishing access to Port MacKenzie in the Mat-Su Borough. There is no “forward funding” for education in this budget.
“For once this budget prioritizes the people over the government,” said Sen. Mike Shower, who introduced several amendments and who advocated for the statutory PFD. “We also prioritized infrastructure we are a decade behind in, turning money into concrete and steel. Everything is fully funded. Don’t believe the lies — all agencies are fully funded. We actually still have money available in the SBR (Statutory Budget Reserve).”
Also today, Sen. Bert Stedman and Sen. Click Bishop voted with the majority of the Senate to roll Sen. Josh Revak, who chairs the Natural Resources Committee. On a vote of 12-8, the majority bounced a top Democrat’s bill out of Revak’s committee — a bill that Revak had been sitting on for without having a hearing in more than a year. SB 207, sponsored by Sen. Bill Wielechowski, would reduce oil and gas tax credits; it has now reached its last committee of referral: Finance.
Earlier this month, Revak led a coup against a Committee Chair Mia Costello to pull a bill from her committee, where she had taken no action on HB 55, a bill to increase union pension costs in Alaska. But today, Costello took the high road and voted against rolling Revak in the way he had rolled her as chair of Senate Labor and Commerce just days prior.