THREE REPUBLICANS VOTE WITH THEIR FEET ON INCREASING BUDGET
On Monday morning, the House Finance subcommittee on Education started to erase, line by line, the Gov. Dunleavy education budget from discussion, and put in its place the FY 2019 budget for education, which would form the basis for the discussion and amendments for the FY 2020 budget.
But the meeting didn’t get very far before the three Republican members of the subcommittee objected to the process and eventually all three of them walked out of committee to bring attention to what they said was a committee that was changing its rules, with no transparency.
Essentially, Reps. DeLena Johnson, Josh Revak and Ben Carpenter were sending a message to Alaskans and the rest of the Legislature that it was likely that all of the Finance subcommittees were using the upside-down budgeting method that would force minority members to actually vote against the governor’s budget.
The method uses the 2019 as the base, and subcommittee members then vote on each line of Dunleavy’s budget. If the Dunleavy line fails, then the base budget moves ahead.
The three minority members were told by committee Chairman Daniel Ortiz of Ketchikan that they could raise their issues as amendments on Wednesday. Monday’s votes were to be on “action items.”
That didn’t set well with Rep. DeLena Johnson, who asked Ortiz to clarify what was actually going on and why all of these “action items” were being done outside of the amendment process, when it was clear that they were amendments.
“The committee brought forward 34 budget amendments this morning – all of which increased government spending – and wouldn’t allow for debate on any of them,” said Johnson later. She was the one who led the objections that characterized the entire meeting, most of which was done in an undeclared at-ease, with the microphones turned off.
Johnson protested the “action item” method of amending the budget and asked Committee Chair Daniel Ortiz to clarify the process because it was clear that the budget in front of them was not the governor’s budget.
Ortiz said that he too had been confused.
“To be perfectly honest with you — this is all off the record — to tell you the truth, I wasn’t sure how we were going to work through this process. We were trying to get some instruction through the co-chairs of Finance as to exactly how we were going to deal with this because there was a question of — we’re starting with the FY adjusted base budget, but we still were required to address the governor’s suggested numbers in the budget,” he explained.
Ortiz had just admitted that the committee was dealing with two budgets — last year’s as a base, and the governor’s budget.
“This isn’t how the committee process is supposed to work and it is not the process that was agreed to beforehand. I’m not going to be a rubber stamp for an agenda that clearly aims to take more money out of the pockets of hardworking Alaskans without telling them,” Johnson said in a statement later.
Rep. Josh Revak was the first to vote with his feet, even as Rep. Ben Carpenter continued to argue against the predetermined outcome of the education budget.
“It has become clear after the first few weeks of the budget process that the Democrat-led House Majority intends to suppress debate with those who disagree and create a platform for those who agree with their agendas,” Revak said. “Regardless of whether you’re represented by a member of the minority or the majority, every Alaskan deserves to have a voice in this process.”
That’s true, but the House is now being run by Democrats, and they’ll produce a Democrat budget.
“As evidenced by this morning’s meeting, the House leadership is not prepared to have an honest conversation about the size, scope, or role of government,” Carpenter said in a press release. “We’re more than happy to identify compromises to find the best solutions for Alaskans, but we can’t have productive conversations if we’re deliberately hiding the fact that we have no way to pay for these 34 proposed budget increases, other than to tax the people or raid the PFD.”
Carpenter was referring to the fact that the Democrat majority is increasing the budget without saying where the money will come from.
Johnson stayed a few more minutes after Carpenter had finally given up and walked out. The exchange among the committee had mainly taken place with the microphone off, but Johnson asked that the committee be back on the record so she could state why she was leaving.
“Given the change to the way we’re doing business here today, I feel like this is a heavy-handed action by the majority, I think the minority voice is not being heard. I think my constituents and the people who elected me deserve better. And as such I will not be participating today.”
With that, she picked up her notebook and left, leaving five Democrats on the subcommittee to vote on the Education budget “action items.”