House and Senate negotiators complete budget proposal

Committee aide Marta Lastufka preps a room in the Bill Ray Center for the operating budget conference committee, May 18, 2016. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)
Committee aide Marta Lastufka preps a room in the Bill Ray Center for the operating budget conference committee, May 18, 2016. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Late on Memorial Day, House and Senate negotiators completed their conference committee work on a proposed state operating budget. They were 26 hours ahead of a still looming deadline.

Now, to avoid a second year of mass layoff notices to state workers and another government shutdown scare, the pressure is on lawmakers to take the negotiated deal as-is.

Sen. Anna MacKinnon, an Eagle River Republican on the conference committee, said their plan was a bipartisan and bicameral effort “to make sure that state employees do not face pink slips tomorrow in a real tough time for Alaska. … The budget before us … addresses the need to cut, the need to invest and the need to compromise.”

The operating budget bill is now bound for the Senate and the House, separately, at 1 p.m.

Like earlier plans, the proposed budget requires cashing out a lot of state savings — $3.2 billion in this case. Lawmakers’ go-to budget reserve requires a three-quarters supermajority to use. That’s given minority Democrats in the House some leverage.

The conference committee restored some money for K-12 public schools, the University of Alaska, child care benefits, and senior and disabilities services.

Fairbanks Republican Sen. Pete Kelly, who co-chaired the conference committee, even agreed to drop an across-the-board executive branch cut worth $100 million. The committee said equivalent savings would come from criminal justice and health care reforms.

After the meeting, Kelly said the votes for savings draw will be there, unless “somebody broke their word.” He called the operating budget the “first domino to fall” in a series.

Other outstanding special session dominos include a capital budget, restructuring the Alaska Permanent Fund and its earnings reserve, shoring up the health insurance market, new or increased taxes, and medical insurance for survivors of peace officers and firefighters under Alaska’s public employee retirement system.

Jeremy Hsieh

Jeremy Hsieh is the deputy managing editor of the KTOO newsroom in Juneau. He’s a podcast fiend who’s worked in journalism since high school as a reporter, editor and television producer. He ran Gavel Alaska for 360 North from 2011 to 2016, and is big on experimenting with novel tools and mediums (including the occasional animated gif) to tell stories and demystify the news. Jeremy’s an East Coast transplant who moved to Juneau in 2008.

Rashah McChesney is a photojournalist turned radio journalist who has been telling stories in Alaska since 2012. Before joining Alaska's Energy Desk, she worked at Kenai's Peninsula Clarion and the Juneau bureau of the Associated Press. She is a graduate of Iowa State University's Greenlee Journalism School and has worked in public television, newspapers and now radio, all in the quest to become the Swiss Army knife of storytellers.

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