Alaska House quits without floor votes on governor's Permanent Fund, tax bills

JUNEAU — The Alaska House adjourned its special session late Saturday without taking up-or-down votes on any of the revenue-raising legislation proposed by Gov. Bill Walker to help close next year's $3.2 billion deficit — meaning that they'll likely find themselves back in Juneau soon.

The House Finance Committee held a three-hour hearing Saturday afternoon to consider and pass House Bill 4002, which would guarantee health insurance for families of firefighters and law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.

But members made no attempt to resurrect Senate Bill 128, the legislation to restructure the Permanent Fund that formed the core of Walker's deficit-reduction plan. The bill was rejected by the committee Friday in a 6-5 vote.

In a floor session Saturday evening, House lawmakers voted unanimously to pass the health insurance bill. Then, they adjourned the special session that Walker convened last month, but without voting on SB 128 or the governor's proposals to levy a personal income tax and increase taxes on alcohol, tobacco, motor fuel, and natural resource extraction.

"There's no movement or more support or less support for the PFD bill," House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said in an interview earlier in the day. "So I don't see us sitting around waiting for it."

The House's departure without a floor vote on the Permanent Fund bill was a rebuke to the Senate, which last week passed SB 128 in a 14-5 vote, and to Walker. House lawmakers from both parties said they weren't satisfied to leave Juneau with such a large deficit, but added that they hadn't been able to reach a consensus on how to fix the state's budget crisis even after five months of work.

In a Facebook post Saturday evening, Anchorage Democratic Rep. Les Gara said he was "beyond frustrated."

"This session has been a failure," Gara wrote. "I have no energy to point fingers, and no interest in it."

The governor said at a Wednesday news conference that he's very likely to call lawmakers back into another special session if they didn't pass the Permanent Fund bill.

In a pair of prepared statements sent minutes apart, Walker first thanked House members for "supporting the state's moral responsibility" and passing the health insurance bill, then expressed his displeasure with the failure of the Permanent Fund legislation.

"I am deeply disappointed that, after more than a year of conversations with Alaskans and more than 400 meetings with legislators about our fiscal problems, SB 128, a critical piece of legislation for Alaska's future, never made it to the House floor for a vote," Walker said. He added: "It is time we pull together as Alaskans to address this fiscal deficit now."

The Senate is scheduled to hold its own floor session at 11 a.m. Sunday. There's no legislation on the Senate's calendar, and Senate President Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, didn't respond to a request for comment Saturday evening.