Session end is murky as budget takes shape

This plaque marks the newly renamed Al Adams Committee Room, where the House Finance Committee meets in the Alaska State Capitol. House finance subcommittees have been finishing their work this week. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO)

Finance subcommittees in both the Alaska House and Senate have been making progress on the budget, but it remained unclear on Thursday, the session’s 38th day, if lawmakers will be done in the 90 days set by state law.

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The House finance subcommittees have been meeting with officials from Gov. Bill Walker’s administration over the past month and have been finalizing budgets.

For the share of the budget that the Legislature directly controls, the House version looks to be pretty similar to the $4.5 billion that Walker proposed. There are some tweaks, including an additional $19 million for the University of Alaska.

These budgets are headed to the entire House Finance Committee and then on to the House floor in the next week or two.

Members of the Republican House minority would like to see cuts. They’ve been proposing cuts in committee, but the majority is not adopting many.

Republicans have different views on how the budget process has been this year. Caucus Leader Rep. Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, said the majority are handling minority amendments better than last year. But Eagle River Rep. Lora Reinbold said she’s not pleased with the process.

In the Senate, finance subcommittees also have been meeting. Cuts are more likely to occur on the Senate side. But don’t expect to see proposed cuts on the scale of the $750 million over three years that the Senate majority talked about last year. They haven’t set themselves a similar goal this year.

Without deep cuts, the Legislature could get out of Juneau in the scheduled 90 days. But challenges remain. Even if they reach an agreement on how much to spend – the question of where the money is going to come from is unanswered. There’s probably no option but to draw from permanent fund earnings. Other than for dividends, it would be the first draw in the fund’s history. But how much to draw from the earnings – and maybe more importantly, whether that draw will be the result of a fiscal plan, is very much to be determined. That issue could push the session beyond the 90 days set by state law. And it may be a challenge to get done in the 121-day session set by the Alaska State Constitution.

In other news, the House Finance Committee room was renamed on Feb. 13 for former House and Senate member Al Adams. Adams represented the North Slope and Northwest Arctic boroughs for 20 years.

It was a chance for lawmakers and state officials to recall a member who was able to work across party lines. Here’s former Rep. Reggie Joule talking about a something Adams told a crowd in Kivalina. The crowd was unhappy with Republican lawmakers who accompanied the Adams, a Democrat, on a trip there.

“He said, ‘It’s true, we don’t always get along, but at the end of the day, we’ll eat, and maybe drink a beer. We’re friends, even though we might be political opposites,’” Joule said. “And that gymnasium and community in Kivalina changed, just like that.”

While Adams died six years ago, Adams’s family and lawmakers who knew him said they felt his continuing presence in the state and that he would live on in the Capitol.

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Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at