Train wreck: Senate leaders forcing Legislature into special session


The Alaska Senate has refused to cough up the state operating budget, refused to allow the seating of a conference committee to negotiate the differences in the Senate and House budget, and refused to treat the House as an equal. So let’s not sugarcoat it: There will be a special session.

Adding fuel to that is the Senate budgeters also wedged $40 million into the budget to account for extra state employee leave that may be “cashed out” in the event of a state shutdown, which would occur July 1, if there is no approved budget.

In other words, the Senate is starting to simmer the narrative that the government could shut down.

At this point on the legislative calendar, the Senate will meet on Monday and go through amendments for the operating budget, then return the budget to the House.

By the Uniform Rules, the House cannot even take up that budget until Tuesday — the last day that is allowed of session by the Alaska Constitution. They must adjourn at midnight on Day 121 or go into either a 10-day extended session (requires a three-quarter affirmative vote in both houses) or Special Session, called by the governor.

Juneau legislative observers say the Senate Democrat-dominated majority is managing the timeline to create panic and crisis.

The real negotiations on the budget occurs at a conference committee, which is an open and transparent process. But with no budget to negotiate, that is now a figment of imagination.

As a side effect, the heavy-handed tactics by the Senate leadership with the take-it-or-leave-it budget has simply coalesced the House majority further.

Another dynamic is coming into play for the Legislature: One of the main housing units for legislative staff is the Driftwood Inn has just gotten more expensive. The rates are kept low, about $70 a night, through the last day of session, normally, but the rundown building was purchased by Tlingit Haida Tribes, and as of May 1, the tribe has started charging full tourist season rate to the staffers who live there. As of Monday, the rate will explode to $280 a night. Staffers don’t make enough to afford that.

That has made some staffers so mad they want the Driftwood taken off the preferred legislative housing list, but there’s no where else for them to go; the Marine View building was turned back into tourism season worker housing, and tourism season has all the other worker housing filled to the brim. Thus, expect that several staffers may sleep on the floor somewhere or leaving for home.

The budget’s sticking point, as it has been since 2017, is the size of the Permanent Fund dividend and what pot of money it will be funded from. The Senate would take 75% of the available funds and use it for government, leaving 25% for dividends. This would leave Alaskans with a $1,300 PFD. The House proposes the 50-50 split, for a $2,700 PFD.

By taking from the PFD, the Senate has announced that it balanced the budget, while the House budget would need to dip into the Constitutional Budget Reserve to balance, since it’s about $600 million short.

Accessing the Constitutional Budget reserve takes a three-quarters vote from the House and Senate.


    • I don’t think it is ‘remember’ too many never knew how to begin with. Travesty.

  1. And whose fault is this year’s Clown Show? It’s our fault! As if no one had a clue this was going to happen…AGAIN! And let the Legislators pay for the staffers rooms out of their Per Diem.

  2. The draw can be (should be in fact) taken out of the Earnings Reserve Account. That’s a simple majority vote in both bodies. It’s where the money from the PFD always came from until the previous governor turned the state upside down politically by changing that process. Around 2017 the legislature changed the language from using the ERA and depositing the earnings for the PFD right into the dividend fund (where the PFD checks were issued from), and started inserting that money into the general fund. Just like that — they got their hands on the money. When the judicial branch agreed (during the Wielechowski challenge) – the earnings from the fund, now actually a “draw” using the POMV method, go straight into the general fund and the legislature gets to do what they want with it. In addition, the old guard in the legislature know how to play the game. Waiting until the end of the 120 day constitutional limit for the session is their standard M.O. They know the longer they wait the pressure builds up significantly on certain legislators to “cave” and just vote for the budget before the unions, press and others start attacking them for the looming and dreaded government “shut down”. A lie of course, but repeated oft enough it sticks. And there is Alaska state government 101 for how the budget “process” happens.

    • The electoral history of Gary Stevens since he was appointed to his Senate seat in 2003:

      2004: 58.6%, one opponent
      2006: 60.0%, one opponent
      2010: unopposed
      2012: 69.8%, one opponent
      2014: 71.6%, one opponent
      2016: unopposed
      2020: 66.6%, one opponent
      2022: 56.3%, two opponents

      It’s not a good look to throw around “got to go” or “has to go” or similar when the facts reveal it to be hollow sloganeering. Unfortunately, that’s been the case every single time someone says this.

  3. The problem in Juneau is that we have no true leaders. We have career politicians. No one regardless of which side of the aisle they are on is there for the betterment of the State of Alaska. They are there for the perks, the prestige, the title. And most important is the retirement. And we are the fools for keep sending them back and believing their lies…

    • At least in the senate. Add in the boatload of faux Republicans – democrats pretending. Thank the fooled voters as well as if you don’t do your homework and vote prepared, you chance to elect dishonest people.

    • No courtenay, the real problem is that so many so called “alaskans” demand and expect a large permanent fund dividend just for living here,and heaven help us if these “alaskans” should ever have to spend a cent in taxes to support public safety,transportation,education, or any services the state provides. When I arrived in Alaska, there was a state income tax and a state education tax. There was very little oil money,as this was pre pipeline. Alaska was a better place then. In those days,Alaskans weren’t expecting handouts. Instead they were reaching out a “hand up” to those who need it.
      Glad I got to experience those days. Too bad you and so many others will never have a clue about what it used to be a real Alaskan

      • Handouts?

        The PFD was outlined in exchange for relinquishing our subsurface mineral rights! And now the blasted Gov wants us to entertain a carbon credit system to further leave our natural resources untapped, while Biden takes away logging, oil, and is now attacking -via various environmental groups- our abilities to hunt and fish, to provide for ourselves from the land.

        Shame on you for suggesting that anyone desirous of receiving a full pfd is waiting for a handout!

        • Not anymore-
          So where is this vast holding of land with all the subsurface oil you hold title too? The fact of the matter is that when the territory of Alaska petitioned congress for statehood, U.S.Congress had doubts that Alaska could be self supporting through methods that work in other states, due to Alaskas remoteness and low probability of ever having a large enough population to cover the expense of this great land. 60+ years later, it serms they were right. And that is why the state, rather than private individuals has subsurface rights.

      • I wouldn’t be so trusting of todays
        community leaders to understand responcible taxation. You trust leaders today
        to do the good when they unsure what is good.
        Alaska was a different place led by another generation long gone.

      • Gunner
        You’re right about before oil but the PFD is the peoples share of the resources as per the state constitution. The 50% going to the state is a tax. They just took it with no problems. The state needs to tax all businesses at the same rate as the big bad oil company’s.

      • You are so right.
        I’d trade away the PFD in a flash if we could roll everything back to the early 1960’s. Deal?

        1960’s Social Security tax rates. No Medicare. Pre-1965 Immigration. Rhodesia.
        No EPA. Muscle cars. Smoking indoors. A government that would break up Google and Amazon in a heartbeat. Insane asylum for the mentally ill instead of letting them wander the streets. Gay marriage and drag queen story hour gone. Pornographers forced to sell out of the trunk of their car instead of allowed direct access to the classroom and libraries.

        Sounds like paradise.
        Oh wait, you don’t want any of that – you just want to spend my PFD on social programs.

      • In those same “good old days” school performance was much better and neighbors truly looked out for each other because they couldn’t rely on a state or federal program. Legislators in our town openly described the budget process as “Find out how much money is there and spend it all.” The budget process remains unchanged, it seems, but the results are not better.

  4. Half of these state senators are a bunch of old buzzards with dementia. They’re still trying to hang on and cause Dunleavy more trouble, even though they can’t change their own Depends. Dementia, Alzheimer’s and other brain misfunctions are a recurring theme for the old greyhair politicians. They won’t let it go because they all think they might become governor one day. In fact, they’re closer to heading to assisted living.

    • 3/4 of the legislature are under 65 including all staff which majority are under 50. This nothing to do with age.

      • Jen,
        Then why do they all look so old? Does this stuff cause them to lose sleep? Or, are they all a bunch of alcoholics and THC abusers? Something is terribly wrong. Most of them look 10 to 15 years beyond their biological years. It’s hard being a sophist and a hypocrite. Democrats in particular age out quickly.

    • The median age of the current Senate is 57, with a quarter of its members (Bjorkman, Dunbar, Myers, Tobin and Wilson) born in the 1980s. I turn 57 this year. Despite growing disinterest with politics, I don’t believe I’ve become that out of touch.

      • Yeah, but Sean, you don’t look 80 either. Look at Senate Finance. They all look like they’re ready for Assisted Living or the Pioneer Home. Maybe the Capitol’s cafeteria is serving too much sodium and MSG.

  5. Elect stupid people, get stupid government.

    Interesting how T/H is jacking the Driftwood rates to $280 a night (confirmed?). I’ve never stayed there but friends have. Calling it a dump was polite from their perspective.

    If people hadn’t chickened out, we could have had a Constitutional Convention and done things like force the capital to the road system, put a hard limit on the legislative sessions, and deny per diem on the rare occasions a special session was actually needed.

    But as usual, alleged conservative voters stayed home and here we are.

    Screwed again.

    • i stayed there awhile, $50. a night, it is kind of dumpy and now for $280? a night?
      Feast or famine theory I guess…….. Or would bait and switch be more like it?

  6. One more reason to expell the “rino” Republicans out of the party. They created this problem by joining with the tax and spend democrats. I don’t think we have a functional republican party anymore.

    • The same people who rescinded Princesses’ censure because she won?

      The same people who couldn’t rally votes to stop RVC? Then refused to learn it once it passed?

      The same people who were unable to get Queen Sarah from screwing up a winnable election?

      There is no GOP in Alaska. IT’s Democrats and socialists.

  7. This all could have been avoided if we’d just made Juneteenth a month long state celebration with all state workers being paid to take it off.

    Elvi tried to warn us, but …

  8. Time to build a dormitory for these politicians and their staffs. Cut their perdiem and make the stay in said dorm manditory.

  9. Groundhog Day (again). It’s time to make it yet another paid holiday for the non working class. How many do we now have? Maybe we should just pay them all to stay home, all the time. Less damage that way.

    • Zoom meetings cost less. Time to do what has been voted in twice, move the legislature out of Juneau. Should have bought the BP building and the 40 plus acres around it. Bye, bye perdiem for most of them.

  10. Gov should not call a special session. Tell the legislature that he will not be a part of it’s wastefullness and per diem games.

    Just put out a press release that says the legislature choose to waste 120 days (30 past the 90 day voter approved limit) and can call itself back into session when it is ready to come back and do some work. Until that happens, legislature can go home and think about how pathetic they are…but they can think about it while NOT getting paid.

  11. Maybe(?), if the clever voters imposed … “Liquidated Damages” type of clause, personally holding the Legislators feet to the fire to meet the expectations of the residents of AK, this might prod the Legislators into action, keeping the business within the allotted timeframe?!?!
    Without punitive damages (consequences), this will never stop.

    • I remember the last time they finished on time. They wanted to go home. The nice conservative guy from Kenai worked them hard around the clock. He supervised the heck out of them and wasn’t sweet about it when they started pulling weird stuff. When they got their budget work done they adjourned everything else left in the air and they rushed to leave and did a happy dance on the way out. NO languid one committee days in that session. He actually called Alaskans personally about Alaskan (not WEF) concerns too during this time and he could tell the difference.

  12. Yet another reason to move the Capitol, to Anchorage or Camp Carroll on Fort Richardson. Nice spare tin buildings. Spartan conditions nelp to focus the mind.

  13. Imagine that–the House outclassed by their “betters” in the Senate! What’s this world coming to?

  14. The real leader of the state senate wouldn’t be Cathy Giessel, would it? She was centered in most of the pictures of the leadership at the start of the session. Whatever the real reason, it doesn’t bode well for Alaska. There has to be a budget and an operating government.

  15. Why only blaming the Senate, and not considering that the House is the culprit for not passing the budget? From your reporting it looks evident that the House doesn’t want to discuss, or do any compromise.

    • The house has nothing to pass as the senate decided to sit on its version of the operating budget and is only getting to final amendments today. Can’t work on something that isn’t available. As for the compromises, they are usually worked out in a conference committee, but since the senate is throwing a hissy-fit and will not participate, it is hard to “compromise” if your the only one at the table.
      I am really tired of the Cathy Giessel version of brinkmanship and blackmail.

    • The House passed a budget and sent that to the Senate either last week or the week before. The Senate has had their chances to make changes and send it back to the House for a vote of concurrence. If that does not occur, then the budget goes to conference committee with members of both the Senate and House hashing out their differences and creating a budget to be voted on by both the House and Senate.

      One big thing to note is that the House cannot debate or vote on a bill sent from the Senate on the same day. So the Senate sending the budget back to the House with less than a couple days left in the session means that there is no chance for the House to make any changes/amendments or have any chance at a conference committee.

      The House took their sweet time sending a budget to the Senate, but it is not the House’s fault that the Senate drug their feet to try and get their way

  16. My understanding is that the Special Session is required because the House Majority insists on spending from the Budget Reserve for an over sized PFD trying to satisfy an outdated Statute. MRAK apparently has the alternative opinion

    • Please explain “outdated statute” Frank.

      You mean the statute appropriating a fair share for the residents a share for future payout and a share for the government? You mean that one?

      Your the expert on outdated around here so please enlighten us.

      I’m sure you’re one of the ones screaming about how it’s “about time” we start paying taxes around here. Too bad we already pay gas taxes bed taxes head taxes alcohol taxes tobacco taxes weed taxes park taxes property taxes and sales tax in many communities in Alaska.
      One of the MRAK readers with an alternative opinion.

  17. The senate, is playing their games as usual. The problem is most of it anyway in the senate finance committee. Everyone of them need to be placed as also the senate president. Enough is enough get the session on the road syatem and get it out of Juneau and maybe the legislators will listen to the people. The legislators forgot who they work for.

  18. The special session has become a revenue stream for legislators and they seem to make sure there is always a reason for a special session to insure that extra pay every year. These politicians have become nothing more that spend it all hogs at a trough and they want to spend all of EVERYBODY’S money.

  19. Stevens & Stedman, aka Abbott & Costello, need to be shown the door! They are a disruptive presence in the Senate.

  20. Ground hog legislature! Same old, same old. And once again we pay these “representatives” more per diem. So very sad…Alaska is on it’s government made cliff and falling quickly!!

  21. I would encourage the PEOPLE of Alaska to get the Ketchikan Phone Book and start calling the VOTERS in Ketchikan. Tell them what they have done to ALL OF US, by voting for Stedman. Be loud, mad as hell, call the Stores, Fire Department, School District—EVERY NUMBER IN THE BOOK.. Make five or more calls a day. Keep calling all summer long. It’s the only way this is going to stop. When we’re done with Stedmen, there is Kelly Merrick, and Cathy Geisel, and others. When they are despised by the communities for what they are doing to the rest of us, They will become UNELECTABLE.

  22. Why should the circus in Juneau be any different then Barnum Bailey and Bidens clown show in DC where they all lie and everyone swears to it. FBI and CIA are the ring leaders.

  23. Of course this was going to happen. Why wouldn’t it happen? It’s happened every year since Walker. The law isn’t being followed w/regard to the PFD and they won’t do anything about the law. They just keep breaking it and moving budgets around. They changed their per diem law at least twice in that time. They’re using time as their advantage to rip us off every year.

    It would be real news if they actually did their jobs on time.

  24. Seems rude to pick on the poor senators.
    They’re outnumbered 7 to 1 by registered lobbyists on speed-dial, all demanding their clients get what they bought, which may explain the political icejams.
    Sadly, Gentle Readers, we’re not among those clients, we’ve no registered lobbyist(s) demanding stuff on our behalf, so this whole thing is naturally hard for us to understand.
    Best guess, from current events, is the Senate’s secret sauce is almost ready: one part sales tax, one-part income tax, garnished with a school tax and just enough legalized gambling to hide any bitterness.
    Problem might reasonably be that no one wants to be first to savor it, much less serve it, hence a bit of delay in rolling out this year’s vintage.

  25. god bless us, we live in a GOP narrative wonderland. everything smells like roses up here. all three branches of government, dictations as to what we can read and see. what is unhealthy for us has to go, an articlulate and educated electorate to boot. we are blessed with the knowledge of leaders that know better than us, treat us with all due respect, make a decisions based on our well being.

    no complaints here, we are blessed that all is well, ship’s on a even keel. captain joe couldn’t pilot the ship of state any better. all sunny skies and no rain, blessed with the greatness of the of our leaders. let’s not worry about anything, what could go wrong. been great since the GOP runs everything

  26. Praise to the Tlingit Haida Tribal Elders for raising the rates on the staffers. Set a fire under them to get this budget done.

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