It’s springtime for Juneau: The end game is cruel




April is the cruelest month in Juneau.

The king salmon are starting to come in. But if you are a legislator or if you work for the Legislature, you either don’t have time to chase the wily king or are afraid that somebody will see you fishing and your picture will be on the front page of the Alaska Dispatch News with a blurb about how you should be working.

Unless you’re a Democrat; the Rogoff Rag wouldn’t do that to a Democrat.

April is when all the pieces that people have been moving all session are put into motion to pass bills, kill bills, and score political points.

April is when the fondest hope of some legislator or interest group fades and dies with “sine die” for a benediction.

I think it is extraordinarily unlikely that there will be a budget for the governor to sign when the speaker says sine die. I can think of several ways this can play out and somebody smarter or more devious can probably think of some I haven’t thought of. It will take me a couple or three of these pieces to game out the permutations, so I’ll start with the easy ones to foresee.

The House isn’t going to accept any budget that results in the elimination or reduction of one program that is important to Democrat constituencies or which results in the layoff of any unionized State employees, and even if they would, the union-owned governor wouldn’t sign it.

The Senate has a difficult choice; if they try to be adults and reach for a sustainable budget, the House and the Governor won’t accept it.

If any Republican in the Senate bolts the Caucus and votes with the Democrats to pass a House budget, s/he is signing his/her political death warrant.   The likely result is that there will be no budget as the 90th day passes.

The Legislature and the Governor will have to make a show of trying to resolve the impasse with a Special Session.   Were I the Governor I’d make some statement about how the Legislators ought to go home and talk to their constituents and set the convening of the Special Session in May.

If you don’t have a budget, May is “crunch time.”   You must have an Operating Budget by May 31. If you don’t, then in June almost all State employees must be given notice that they are subject to layoff for lack of funds at close of business on June 30.

It is likely that School Districts and REAAs will follow suit and issue layoff notices to education employees on June 1.

Some municipalities may also do so for employees in programs supported by State or federal funds.

At some point the ferry system and the airports will give notice that they may not be operating after June 30; there goes a big chunk of the tourist season.

If the State unions can get solidarity with their brothers and sisters in the Longshoremen’s Union, the cruise ship season is at risk and perhaps even the Alaska tanker trade.

A longshoremen’s refusal to work is probably illegal but that takes time to sort out and a lot of travelers will change their travel plans during that sorting out. Unlike the federal government which can keep vital people working in a period with no budget, the State has no such authority.

At 12:01 am, July 1, if there is no budget, the State government does not exist. I don’t think the Governor would let the prisons, the Pioneer homes, the State Troopers, and other vital services stop, but he could or the employees could entirely lawfully refuse to come to work if they can’t be guaranteed to be paid.

If I had a Republican governor and I was his director of labor relations, I’d accept the “queen’s gambit” and dare them to shut it down on July 1; I think I could win, but my definition of winning would be very different from the hermaphrodite* Administration’s definition.

My definition of winning would be making the unions and Democrats back off, accept taking a haircut, and come to terms on a budget in which they can control their losses.

Their definition of winning is going to the shutdown, blaming the Republicans, whipping up a media frenzy about killing Granny, and making the Republicans come to heel and give the unions/Democrats the budget they want.

In summary, Senate Republican-led majority can either accede to the governor and the union-owned House’s budget and spend the time between now and January 2018 hoping that a war in the Middle East will save Alaska again, or they can have an existential battle with the governor, the Democrats, and unions.

Nobody has ever accused me of being reticent to bring on a fight, but this fight is for the money, marbles, and chalk, and I’d give it a lot of thought and make sure I knew who my friends were before I got in that ring.

Art Chance is a retired Director of Labor Relations for the State of Alaska, formerly of Juneau and now living in Anchorage. He is the author of the book, “Red on Blue, Establishing a Republican Governance,” available at Amazon. He only writes for Must Read Alaska when he’s thoroughly bored. *Chance uses the phrase “hermaphrodite Administration” to describe a governor who is both a Republican and a Democrat.