‘WE WON’T LEAVE UNTIL WE TAX YOU’:
One week from tomorrow, pink slips will go out to 20,000 or more state employees. They are being told by the Governor and the House Democrat-led majority, that unless Republicans cave on income taxes, they’ll take this budget to the brink.
The Democrats’ strategy is to prevent passage of the state budget for 2018 unless they get an income tax to skim as much as $700 million from working Alaskans.
Rep. Chris Birch, a Republican from South Anchorage, posted on his Facebook page earlier today: “Disappointed that the House Democratic Majority has made up their collective mind to send out pink slips to state employees next Thursday, June 1st. By slow rolling the budget and conference committees, killing time on non-fiscal issues, and insisting on a job killing income tax on Alaskans, House Majority Democrats are purposefully running out the clock.”
Birch was referring to the newest bill in town, HB 159, which the governor introduced as part of the Special Session, and which has nothing to do with the fiscal crisis. At 30 pages, it is a bill that would create databases for opioid prescriptions and licenses. Although opioid use is a serious problem in Alaska and the rest of the country, Birch expressed doubt that it should be at the top of the list for special session at a time when the Legislature’s only duty is to pass a budget.
“Given the crushing impact addictions have had on our families, friends, neighbors and Alaskans I welcome the debate but would have preferred first engaging this subject last January,” Birch wrote.
At the end of the first week of special session, little work has been done in Juneau on either an operating budget, or much of anything else. Most Republican lawmakers have returned to their districts because no meetings are scheduled, and those legislators who stay, such as Justin Parish of Juneau, are getting $250 a day in per diem. For guys like Parish, this is the dream job of a lifetime. Last year, salary and per diem gave lawmakers between $10,590 and $11,610 per month during session.
The word throughout the political circles are that no work will be scheduled until after Memorial Day. That will leave lawmakers with about 15 days to finish, or the governor can and probably will call a second special session.
June 1, however, will most likely come and go with no budget passed, since House Democrats and the governor are insisting on an income tax and no meaningful budget cuts — in fact, the House budget is $200 million larger than the one the governor proposed back in December. And Senate Republicans have said that the income tax is their Hamburger Hill: They’ll defend it no matter what the personal or political cost to them.
That means pink slips go out on June 1. And, as Must Read Alaska Senior Contributor Art Chance has written on these pages, without a passed-and-signed budget, State government ceases to exist on July 1.