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Sine die: 'It was a process.'
The bipartisan Senate’s insistence on a balanced budget won out the day.
Happy Friday, Alaska.
In this edition: The Alaska Legislature has finally passed a budget and wrapped up the special session. All it took was $34.2 million in last-minute capital spending for the Republican-led House Majority. The bipartisan Senate’s insistence on a balanced budget won out the day as the PFD remains at the affordable $1,300 PFD with a one-time education funding boost, all while balancing as long as oil prices don’t fall below the forecast. While the wherefores and what’s nexts will wait for another day, here’s a rundown of the first and last day of the 2023 special session.
Current mood: 😴
‘It was a process.’
After 121 days without pretty much any indication that the House and Senate would budge from their incompatible positions on the state’s operating budget, it took less than 24 hours into the special session and a little more than $34 million in earmarks to finally reach a resolution.
In high-level terms, the bipartisan Senate Majority’s vision for a balanced budget won the day. The budget contains a $1,300 PFD rather than the $2,700 PFD championed by the House and barely stays within the projected revenue for the upcoming year, even when factoring in about two dozen projects requested by the Republican-led House Majority.
Much of the Thursday was spent waiting as the House and Senate held closed-door meetings to chart a potential deal on the budget, but it didn’t appear confident that a deal would come together quickly. The Senate met in the morning and passed a motion to position them for a drag-out fight over the budget, allowing them to adjourn for more than three days at a time. It wasn’t ultimately needed.
The deal on the budget materialized around 5 p.m. when the House finally gaveled into the special session and immediately kicked the operating budget that House Leadership refused to bring to a vote on Wednesday back to the Senate. The Senate met and introduced an amendment that would add $34.2 million in capital spending projects that Sen. Bert Stedman jovially declared had been hand-picked by members of the House as part of an end-of-session deal.
“There are roughly 24 items in it totaling $34.2 million. They were worked in negotiations with the other body, the other body made all the selections, and we have adopted them all in this little amendment,” Stedman said, going over some of the amendments and extolling the virtues of things like sewer upgrades and ditch improvements. “After this amendment, we’re still $34 million-plus in the black.”
Without any debate, the Senate approved the amendment, signed off on the budget and adjourned from the special session.
The amendment makes no change to the size of this year’s dividend, which had been the most significant sticking point in the session. It’ll be about $1,300, but the Senate has added language to the budget passed ahead of the end of the session that funnels part of any surplus this upcoming year into an energy rebate—up to $500—that’d be paid out in 2024.
As for the earmarks, nearly half of that money will go to projects in the Mat-Su Borough, home to the core of the Republican-led House Majority. In addition, the Interior, Anchorage (specifically the conservative Eagle River and South Anchorage areas represented by Majority Republicans), Kenai and rural districts represented by House Majority members all received something in the package.
The only region not covered in the deal is Southeast Alaska, which is home to no members of the House Majority.
While not part of the final deal, the Senate, on the last day of the session, also approved about $5 million in additional major maintenance spending for the University of Alaska, $1.5 million for the hosting of the Arctic Winter Games, $10 million for the Alaska Energy Authority’s energy project grants and $5 million for AEA’s port electrification efforts.
The House then—without any debate beyond the usual objections raised by Wasilla Rep. David Eastman—moved to a vote on the measure, passing it on one of the more unusual votes of this session.
A group of 10 members of the House Majority—which included far-right Republican Reps. Mike Cronk, Kevin McCabe and Tom McKay—joined the House Minority’s coalition of Democrats and independents to pass the budget on a 26-14 vote. Along with Eastman, 13 members of the Majority voted against the budget, including House Speaker Cathy Tilton.
Tilton and several other Majority members did, however, cross over in support of the effective date vote on the bill, which will allow the budget to go into effect on time on July 1. That will avoid the risk of another government shutdown on that day, which became a possibility last year.
Speaking with reporters after the vote, Speaker Tilton said the vote was the result of the House’s “caucus of equals” approach, where no one is required to vote for the budget. What it produced, though, is a budget that wouldn’t have passed if it was up to the House Majority.
“It might not have been the process that all of us wanted to get to,” she said, “but it was a process.”
Details of the deal
You can find the full amendment covering the changes here:
$5 million for the reconstruction of the Palmer Library
$5 million for a runway extension at the Wasilla Airport
$4.75 million for Talkeetna water and sewer line repairs and upgrades
$1 million for the Mat-Su Borough’s metropolitan planning organization support
$7.1 million for the Veterans Cemetery
$3 million for abatement at the long-abandoned Polaris Hotel in downtown Fairbanks
$474,000 for an ADA-compliant elevator at the Salcha Senior Center
$85,000 for maintenance at the Tok Chamber of Commerce
$25,000 for the Kenny Lake Volunteer Fire Department
$1.5 million for the purchase and establishment of the Eagle River Cemetery
$2 million for Mary Avenue area storm drainage
$1 million for the Starner Bridge Road and drainage in Eagle River
$447,500 for drainage and ditching in the South Anchorage Hillside service area
$200,000 for South Anchorage’s Hillside fire prevention and mitigation
$420,000 for Lower Virgo Avenue emergency egress improvements in South Anchorage
$670,525 for Hope transfer site relocation
$150,000 for the expansion of the Ninilchik Senior Citizens’ kitchen expansion
$600,000 for the City of Kenai’s Wildwood Drive Roadway reconstruction
$5 million for the City of Dillingham’s harbor float replacement
$500,000 for the City of Kotzebue’s Cape Blossom Port Authority
$269,410 for the City of Pilot Station to buy a bulldozer
$500,000 for the City of Bethel Public Safety Communication Tower
$550,000 for the State of Alaska Police Policy Manual Project
In sad news today, one of my favorite online content creators, Hank Green (brother of author John Green), announced today that he has cancer. He talked about the diagnosis and experience in this in this very heartfelt and vulnerable video.
Have a nice weekend, y’all. Spend some time with the people who matter most. See ya Monday.
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