Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Unable to pass a budget it could pay for, the Alaska Legislature on Monday evening decided to adjourn and go home. Minutes later, Gov. Bill Walker issued a proclamation calling lawmakers back into special session Tuesday to pass a "fully funded" budget.

The special session also calls for consideration of Medicaid reform and expansion and Erin's Law, a sex abuse prevention bill.

One key Medicaid expansion opponent, Sen. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, called the special session "a tactical mistake by a governor who hasn't quite figured out this building yet."...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- For almost the full 90 days of this year's regular legislative session, the small Democratic minorities in the state House and Senate have been powerless to accomplish their goals.

They were unable earlier to stop $100 million in education cuts in the operating budget, or to even open a discussion on oil tax credits that have caused the budget deficit to balloon.

But now, it's Democrats who are in the driver's seat.

They're making use of an obscure provision in state budgeting law that hasn't been relevant for a decade, and that some say shouldn't exist and isn't working as intended. Ironically, the provision that gives Democrats power was created at the insistence of Republicans years ago...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Most work has stopped at the Alaska Capitol, but even though they're not doing much, Alaska's legislators are still getting paid.

Legislators get what's called "session per diem," currently set at $233 per day, for every day the Legislature is in session.

Because lawmakers haven't completed work on the budget, their chief duty, they're still in session while House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, and Democratic leader Chris Tuck try to agree on a budget that can pass the House.

"Legislators are paid per diem for every day the Legislature is in session, and an extension of the regular session isn't treated any differently than the regular session," said Jessica Geary, accounting manager for the Legislative Affairs Agency...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Legislative leaders Monday ignored a state law that could have brought the 90-day legislative session to an end Sunday.

Republican leaders said they had solid ground to do so, because they were relying on the Alaska Constitution's maximum 120-day session limit, not the maximum 90-day session limit adopted into state statute using the voter initiative process in 2006.

"The Constitution trumps the statute," said Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, chair of the House Rules Committee, which controls the flow of bills to the floor.

But the will of the people is still reflected, in different ways, he said...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Many Alaska politicians may rail against federal overreach, but when it comes to money, the state often has its hand out to Washington. But as the struggles over this year’s budget show, sometimes there are risks in taking that money.

With low oil prices making it difficult to find general fund dollars to spend on capital projects, more than 80 percent of this year's $1.5 billion capital budget comes from the federal government. That capital budget is scheduled to be voted on Sunday by the state House of Representatives.

Past decisions to take federal money have caused that budget to grow in the last few days as the House Finance Committee has added new projects to the budget...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Top House Republican and Democratic leaders have begun negotiations on passage of the state budget, acknowledging for the first time that they'll have to reach agreement on pulling money locked in the Constitutional Budget Reserve to balance this year's budget.

Budget deficits this year are expected to wipe out the state's easily available savings account, the $2 billion Statutory Budget Reserve. That will force lawmakers to dip into the Constitutional Budget Reserve. But unlike the statutory reserve, tapping the constitutional account requires a supermajority -- 30 of the 40 House members.

That means Republican House Speaker Mike Chenault will need votes from the 13-member Independent Democratic caucus to balance this year's budget from savings...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Alaskans from every region of the state support expansion of Medicaid, said pollster Ivan Moore, putting new pressure on legislators who oppose expansion and say they are reflecting their constituents' views.

"Even in the most conservative, Republican areas of the state, Fairbanks and the Mat-Su, it's still 2-1 in favor," Moore said.

Moore's poll, part of his company's quarterly Alaska survey, showed 65 percent of Alaskans in favor of expansion, with 22 percent opposed. That's close to a poll conducted for the Republican-led House majority caucus a few weeks ago that showed 60 percent in favor...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- An attempt by Republican House members to target the jobs of specific Walker administration employees, including a former Democratic state senator, has been abandoned by the full Legislature, despite its strong Republican majority.

A House committee specified some employees by their specific Position Control Numbers -- including singling out a deputy commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development, former Sen. Joe Thomas, D-Fairbanks -- and tried to cut their jobs...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- A conference committee hashing out differences between House and Senate budgets has cut some money for education and urged pay cuts for public employees, but legislators say they're planning to provide money for the Legislature's spiffy new Anchorage offices and to fight the federal government.

Meanwhile, the legislators say they have yet to decide the biggest budget differences, such as the large gaps in K-12 education funding and public broadcasting proposals.

Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, a member of the committee, urged it to protect school funding. A Legislative Research report indicates it will take more money to not fall behind, he said...

Pat Forgey

JUNEAU -- Here’s the tactic that Republican legislative leaders hope will block Medicaid expansion in Alaska: They intend to require majority support inside their caucuses for extending Medicaid before they’ll allow a floor vote. That move would effectively turn the entire Legislature into their partisan organizations and prevent their own members from joining Democrats to pass expansion.

“We don’t want to put anything on the floor that the majority caucus doesn’t support,” said Senate President Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, who as president leads the 15-member majority caucus in the Senate made up of 14 Republicans and Democrat Lyman Hoffman of Bethel.

In the House of Representatives, Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said a similar policy is in effect...

Pat Forgey