JUNEAU, Alaska — The Alaska Legislature won’t finish its work by Sunday, but legislative leaders don’t think they will be in Juneau much longer — at least compared to the last several years.
Sunday marks the end of the voter-approved 90-day session. Lawmakers have blown past that limit in recent years amid debate over how to address the state’s budget deficit. Even the constitutional regular session limit, of up to 121 days, hasn’t always been enough.
But Senate President Pete Kelly and House Speaker Bryce Edgmon said Friday that this session lacks the acrimony of last year, which was marked by a bitter fight over taxes and drawn-out special sessions.
This year both sides have proposed using Alaska Permanent Fund earnings to help pay for government. The proposals are a major step since traditionally earnings from the oil-wealth fund have been used to pay residents annual dividend checks and to inflation-proof the fund, not for government spending.
House leaders have said the House and Senate aren’t that far apart on the budget, though there are differences, including in calculations for what should be paid for oil and gas tax credits.
The House and Senate versions of the budget each set the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend at $1,600 for this year, and Gov. Bill Walker has said that should be considered a settled issue.
Among the other issues still unresolved are the capital budget, public safety bills that Walker has deemed a priority and whether lawmakers will set into law a long-term draw rate for use of Alaska Permanent Fund earnings.
A permanent fund bill is a priority for the Republican-led Senate, though some House majority members have said they would be OK with just having a draw in the upcoming budget.
Edgmon, a Democrat from Dillingham, said his caucus has not wanted a deficit solution that relies alone on permanent fund earnings. His caucus is struggling with the concept of legislation cementing a long-term draw rate and lacks a unified position on that, he said.
The House majority, composed largely of Democrats, has pushed for what it sees as a more balanced fiscal plan that includes a broad-based tax and changes to oil and gas taxes, in addition to use of permanent fund earnings. Taxes have been a nonstarter with the Senate.
On Friday, the Senate Finance Committee advanced a two-year funding bill for Alaska schools that would provide a one-time boost of $30 million in year two but makes all year-two money contingent upon passage of a permanent fund bill. The bill had no contingencies for first-year funding.
Meanwhile, the House was poised to consider legislation that would increase the per-student funding formula in state law.
The House and Senate have each said providing timely funding for schools is a priority.