Alaska Senate passes $1,100 dividend, now the governor must approve it

Gov. Mike Dunleavy at a news conference at the Atwood Building in Anchorage on Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021. (Matthew Faubion / Alaska Public Media)

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The Alaska Senate approved a roughly $1,100 dividend on the last day of a special session Tuesday, after the House canceled its floor and left the Senate with what amounted to a take-it-or-leave-it decision on the check for residents that the House had previously passed.

The Senate Finance Committee sent the House version of the bill to the Senate floor on Tuesday where it passed 12-7 after efforts to amend the bill in favor of a higher payout failed.

Sen. Bert Stedman, the committee co-chair, had said that if the Senate adopted any changes, the bill would die.

House Speaker Louise Stutes, in announcing the House floor cancellation earlier in the day, said the House had completed its work.

The Kodiak Republican said in a statement that legislative rules bar concurrence the same day the other chamber passes legislation and that there was no time left for a conference committee if the Senate made any changes.

Legislators could waive those rules with two-thirds support in each chamber, but Stutes did not believe she had those numbers in the House, said House majority press secretary Joe Plesha.

Stutes said the bill was “safe in the capable hands of the Senate.”

Gov. Mike Dunleavy told reporters earlier Tuesday that he wanted to see what the Senate does. He has advocated for a check of around $2,350.

There have been different views on whether some of the funds targeted for use for the dividend in the House bill are readily available. Without those, the dividend would be estimated at $585, according to the Legislative Finance Division.

The House bill would use general funds and money from the statutory budget reserve fund for this year’s dividend. The reserve fund was long considered among the accounts subject to being swept into the constitutional budget reserve to repay it for money that had been used from it. Lawmakers can reverse the sweep and restore funds to their original accounts. But earlier this year, they failed to secure the votes to do so.

The director of Legislative Legal Services has said a recent court decision suggests the statutory reserve is not subject to the sweep. Dunleavy spokesperson Jeff Turner last month said the fund “has been swept” and that the Legislature could change that with a three-quarters vote.

Dividend checks are typically paid in the fall.

Lawmakers earlier this year proposed an $1,100 check, using funds cobbled together from various pots and tying strings to that amount. It failed to win enough support, and what remained was estimated to be a $525 check that Dunleavy vetoed.

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