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Alaska Legislature

Senate opponents of $3,000 Permanent Fund dividend nearly managed to kill it

  • Author: James Brooks
  • Updated: June 7, 2019
  • Published June 6, 2019

Members of the Alaska Senate crowd around Senate Secretary Liz Clark for an interpretation of the Senate rules Thursday, June 6, 2019. (James Brooks / ADN)

JUNEAU — Senate opponents of legislation to pay a $3,000 Permanent Fund dividend unexpectedly attempted to force a revote Thursday in the state Capitol.

The attempt failed, and the Senate adjourned until 11 a.m. Friday.

Thursday’s events were a continued sign that the issue of the Permanent Fund dividend is balanced on a knife’s edge in the Alaska Legislature. If the revote had taken place and failed, it could have killed the bill.

Under the Legislature’s rules, a revote can happen only once. If that revote fails, the bill dies.

Was Thursday’s move an attempt to kill the bill?

“No,” said Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole, who called for the revote.

He said he likely lacked the votes to defeat the bill entirely and that his suggestion was more about frustration with the pace of progress in the Senate.

When asked why the measure came up for a vote, Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, said Alaskans cannot wait for action.

“We need to get the operating budget moving, and right now, we have an issue that is standing in the way of that,” she said.

Under a verbal agreement within the 14-member Alaska Senate majority, senators will not advance a House-Senate compromise budget until a dividend amount is approved. Without a budget, Alaska’s state government will shut down July 1.

Senate Bill 1002 was proposed Monday to split the issue of the dividend from the rest of the budget. Amended to pay a $3,000 dividend using the traditional payout formula in state law, it failed in a 10-8 vote on Tuesday. Eleven votes are needed to advance legislation, and supporters hoped to revote and gain an 11th vote on Friday with the return of Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla.

On Wednesday, Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, D-Anchorage, said she would be absent Friday, leaving supporters with 10 votes again. Supporters of SB 1002 said they anticipated a revote Tuesday instead.

On Thursday, supporters of the proposal were caught flat-footed when opponents brought the measure up for a revote. Five members of the 20-member Senate were absent.

“We’re basically disenfranchising voters because thousands and thousands of Alaskans are not represented here,” said Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, speaking against proceeding.

Senate Majority Leader Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, is a supporter of the $3,000 dividend and said that while she knew it was possible that opponents could call for a revote earlier than scheduled, “when it did happen, it was shocking.”

While it did not appear that opponents of the measure had enough votes to kill it entirely, supporters took no chances.

As the revote approached, Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, made a procedural motion that would have required absent lawmakers to attend the floor session. Rather than proceed with that action, which could have required Alaska State Troopers to escort the absent lawmakers to Juneau, the Senate adjourned until 11 a.m. Friday.

A $3,000 dividend remains a possibility in the state operating budget. SB 1002 was proposed as a means of splitting the question and allowing lawmakers to consider the dividend separate from the budget.

Without a budget, the state remains on course for a government shutdown July 1.