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Alaska Legislature

Alaska House, with new-look coalition, expects to open budget discussions Monday

  • Author: James Brooks
  • Updated: February 16
  • Published February 15

Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, leads a meeting of the House Committee on Committees Friday, Feb. 15, 2019. (James Brooks / ADN)

JUNEAU — The new-look coalition House majority is aiming to finish its organization process Monday, with the first House hearings on Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget proposal also possible that day, House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, said Friday.

The Alaska Senate’s finance committee has already begun budget hearings.

“We’re eager to get caught back up as best we can now,” Edgmon said.

The House has settled into a 25-15 split after ending a monthlong deadlock over who should lead the 40-member chamber. The deadlock ended with eight Republicans joining 15 Democrats and two independents in the majority. Edgmon, who was elected as a Democrat, changed his party affiliation and said he should now be considered an independent alongside Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan.

Because it includes all of the House’s Democratic lawmakers, the House majority is expected to be more skeptical of Dunleavy’s budget proposal than the Senate majority, which is predominantly Republican.

House Republicans announced a 21-member majority soon after the November election, but that move turned out to be premature when Rep. Gary Knopp, R-Kenai, said the bare-minimum majority was unworkable because any one member could effectively halt action by withholding his or her vote. He proceeded to withdraw from the nascent Republican majority in search of a coalition majority.

“They basically proved it, I guess, that they could veto,” said Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage.

Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, speaks as the new House minority leader on Friday at the State Capitol. At center is Rep. DeLena Johnson, R-Palmer, the minority whip, and at left is Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, the minority finance leader. (James Brooks / ADN)
Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, talks to Democratic members of the new House majority on Friday. (James Brooks / ADN)

The new coalition majority includes six members of that prospective Republican majority: Knopp, Fairbanks Rep. Steve Thompson, Anchorage Rep. Chuck Kopp, Fairbanks Rep. Tammie Wilson, Fairbanks Rep. Bart LeBon and Anchorage Rep. Jennifer Johnston.

They will join two other Republicans who already pledged to the coalition: Rep. Louise Stutes of Kodiak and Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux of Anchorage.

LeBon said he chose to join the new majority after it became clear Wilson and Thompson were doing so.

“Either we go as a group, or we don’t go at all,” he said of the Fairbanks delegation.

In a typical year, the election of a speaker would be followed immediately by committee announcements, including the naming of members to the budget-setting finance committee. That schedule is set by the Legislature’s internal rules but isn’t happening this year.

“To put it generously, the process is not what generally would occur,” he said.

On Friday, only a handful of announcements were finalized. Wilson and Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome, will lead the finance committee. Johnston will be vice chair of the finance committee.

Though an official announcement will wait until Monday, LeBon said he will hold one of the majority seats on the committee, “where I will be joined by Adam Wool (D-Fairbanks), who I have known for many years.”

It is not clear who will fill the remaining majority seats on the 11-member committee.

Members of the new 15-member Republican minority said Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, will be the ranking minority member on the finance committee, with Rep. Kelly Merrick, R-Eagle River, Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, and Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla, filling the other minority seats.

Membership of the committee matters because the finance committee considers all legislation involving spending money. If a bill cannot garner the support of that committee, it cannot advance to a vote of the full House.

A limited number of House leadership positions were also announced Friday. Thompson will serve as majority leader and Kopp will be chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee, which determines what bills are scheduled for a vote of the full House.

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