JUNEAU — A day after Gov. Mike Dunleavy told reporters he could pressure lawmakers into considering his proposed constitutional amendments by calling them into special session, members of the Alaska House of Representatives voted 24-15 to increase their own budget in preparation for extended work.
The vote came as lawmakers continue to hone an alternative to Dunleavy’s proposal for state spending in the fiscal year that starts July 1. The proposal in front of the House this week is for a $10.22 billion state operating budget plus a Permanent Fund dividend estimated to be about $1,300-$1,400 per person. (Precise figures are not yet available.) That’s a smaller dividend and more spending than the proposal offered by the governor in February.
House lawmakers have been debating amendments to the House’s alternative since Tuesday morning and are expected to continue Thursday. The change to the Legislature’s budget was one of a handful that have been accepted.
Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, offered the amendment and said it was driven in part by the governor telling reporters that he could threaten budget vetoes or a special session in order to encourage action.
The governor did not say he would do those things, only that he could. Pressed on the matter, he said he would defer firm pledges until he sees what action the Legislature takes on the budget. “You’re going to get a better idea when we see what they’re doing,” he said Tuesday.
Tuck took the governor’s statement as a threat, telling fellow lawmakers that “(The governor) plans on having special session after special session after special session.”
The amendment increases the line item for legislative expenses by $1 million and the line item for budget and audit expenses by $1.6 million.
“If we do have to go on the road with special sessions, there’s going to be staff ... this is just a contingency to make sure we are able to function in this next year,” Tuck said.
The measure had support from the coalition House majority and from Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake, who said the Legislature also needs additional money to conduct financial audits.
Other substantive amendments have failed to receive a majority of votes. Lawmakers voted 15-24 against accepting Medicaid cuts suggested by the Department of Health and Social Services as part of the governor’s budget plan. The House plan includes $58 million in Medicaid cuts; the governor’s plan would have included $103 million in cuts in the first phase of a two-year plan.
House lawmakers are expected to finish the amendment process and approve their resulting budget plan by the end of the week. The budget will then go to the Senate for consideration. Lawmakers there are expected to make further cuts, and then House and Senate would negotiate a compromise plan.
Any legislative plan would go to the governor for approval or veto.