House set for marathon budget session
JUNEAU — The Alaska House will begin a lengthy budget slog today by considering the first of what are expected to be hundreds of budget amendments from individual lawmakers.
Asked how many amendments the 18-member House Republican Minority might offer, Minority Leader Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, said, “That’s a great question.”
She proceeded to talk about a juice cleanse she is trying.
House Majority Leader Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, said lawmakers’ amendments remain confidential and their personal property until presented on the floor, so he doesn’t know how many there will be.
“The hope is that it’s not such a large number of amendments that we have to spend days on the House floor,” said Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham.
The coalition House Majority has proposed an undesignated general fund budget of $5.07 billion. That’s actually 2.6 percent more than the amount proposed by Gov. Bill Walker in December, but much of the increase is because lawmakers have proposed increasing the Permanent Fund Dividend.
If dividend spending isn’t included, the proposed budget is $4.2 billion, about 0.7 percent above Walker’s figure. Some of the additions included $2.1 million more for the Alaska Marine Highway System and $1.2 million for pre-kindergarten programs.
If it seems strange that lawmakers would call for more spending when Alaska faces a $2.7 billion annual deficit and dwindling savings accounts, realize that the budget presented by the House is only a first step.
The Senate is formulating its own budget proposal, one that calls for hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts, and the two plans must be reconciled before the Legislature gavels out for the year.
Each budget acts as a bumper, with the eventual compromise somewhere between.
“Ultimately, we’re going to conference with the Senate, which is going to come through with a much lower number,” Edgmon said.
Before today’s floor session, Republicans in the House minority proposed more than 230 cuts to the majority’s budget, but few were accepted.
Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage and a member of the Finance Committee, voiced his displeasure before the committee moved the budget to the floor on Friday morning.
“Thanks for proving to the public that we can’t get along,” he said.
“There is no bipartisanship in this building,” he told Finance Committee chairman Paul Seaton, who is also a Republican.
Some of the defeated amendments are expected to reappear on the House floor, where individual lawmakers may make budgetary suggestions that are subject to an up-or-down vote of their colleagues. It’s not a quick process.
“One amendment can be an hour debate sometimes,” Tuck said.
Edgmon said he is scheduling the House to have daily floor sessions — an act that will put all other House business on hold — until the budget is passed.
“We’re going to go as long as it takes,” he said.
James Brooks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.