The Alaska Legislature adjourned late Wednesday without passing a budget to fund the government for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy immediately called the Legislature into a 30-day special session to pass a budget starting at 10 a.m. Thursday.
“There’s still tomorrow,” said Sen. Bill Wielechowski, a Democrat from Anchorage who is part of the Senate’s bipartisan majority.
Wielechowski’s optimism comes despite the history of special sessions proceeding with little action until the final days, and despite accusations from House leaders that the Senate had acted without their input during the last days of negotiations.
“The bottom line is it’s a Legislature that has two bodies, both bodies should be able to weigh in on that budget,” said House Speaker Cathy Tilton, a Wasilla Republican.
The Senate had proposed a $1,300 Permanent Fund dividend and a $174 million boost to education funding. The House proposed a $2,700 dividend and a level of education funding similar to the Senate, but it didn’t have the votes to pay for the deficit it would incur.
On Wednesday evening, the Senate passed a budget that included a $1,300 PFD with a provision that would pay out an extra $500 if oil prices were above predictions.
Normally, the chamber has 24 hours to look over a budget, but the Senate did not send the bill to the House until the final day of the regular session as they scrambled to come up with a deal late into the night Tuesday at a meeting convened by the governor. House members said there was no deal struck during those negotiations, and they ultimately wanted more time to go over provisions.
“Going from six o’clock to eight o’clock — that’s two hours, that’s not enough time to take a look at a budget that we got from the Senate … that we didn’t even have an opportunity to weigh in on,” Tilton said.
Rep. Craig Johnson, a Republican from Anchorage, said House leaders demanded a conference committee so members of both chambers could hash out differences between their proposals. But he said Senate leaders said no.
The House ultimately adjourned Wednesday night without taking a vote on the Senate’s budget proposal.
Senate leaders had a different take on the final days of the regular session. They said the House had failed to communicate what capital projects they wanted to be included as part of a budget deal. And they pointed to the House’s failure to find money to pay for the larger dividend they proposed, something that requires a supermajority of House votes.
“They had a 50-50 dividend — which we all want — but it wasn’t funded,” said Wielechowski. “And they passed us an education budget, which wasn’t funded.”
Wielechowski said his Senate Majority Caucus would continue to meet with House members to try to push through a budget vote as soon as Thursday. House leaders didn’t say when they would reconvene.
The governor hasn’t made any comments about whether he would sign off on a budget with a $1,300 PFD. Dunleavy was in Anchorage Wednesday. His spokesperson said he was scheduled to go on a charity black bear hunt.