Alaska Legislature averts shutdown with nine days to spare

With nine days to spare, the Alaska Legislature has averted a statewide government shutdown.

At 1:04 p.m. Thursday afternoon, a joint House-Senate conference committee approved a compromise budget that funds state government past July 1 using savings from Alaska’s Constitutional Budget Reserve.

The Senate voted 16-1 just before 9 p.m. to approve the deal, and the House followed suit, 31-8, just after 10 p.m.

“This is very much a compromise budget, and that’s what we’ve been down here working on,” said Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer and House chairman of the conference committee.

“No one got what they fully wanted. We had to concede; they had to concede, and we came up with this compromise package,” said Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel and Senate chairman of the conference committee.

Every vote against the budget was cast by a Republican who said they wanted to see greater budget cuts.

“We just can’t keep spending money like this,” said Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole. “At some point, we have to cut back just like private business has done.”

Even though the conference committee spent more than a month negotiating Thursday’s compromise, there was anxiety down to the final hours about whether enough members of the House Republican Minority would support the deal, which pays for the budget using the state’s Constitutional Budget Reserve.

A three-quarters vote of the House and a three-quarters vote of the Senate is required to use that reserve, and the Coalition House Majority has only 22 members.

In the end, even with Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, excused absent, nine members of the minority voted for the deal and the spending from the CBR.

“I’m not going to try to destroy the budget to score political points,” said Rep. Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River.

Gov. Bill Walker also must approve any compromise; he could veto it if he deems it incomplete.

In a brief statement Thursday, he indicated that was unlikely to happen.

“I am pleased the conference committee has compromised on an operating budget, which means we are one step closer to averting a shutdown of government services. Now, it is time to compromise on a fiscal plan,” Walker said in a brief prepared statement.

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06/23/2017 - 9:02am