JUNEAU — The Republican minority in the Alaska House of Representatives has drawn the lines for the next fight in the Legislature.
On Tuesday, House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, said his 15-member bloc likely will not vote in favor of a new state capital budget unless the Legislature approves a $3,000 Permanent Fund dividend using the traditional formula in state law.
That’s a problem for lawmakers because significant parts of the capital budget are funded with money from the state’s Constitutional Budget Reserve. Using the reserve requires the support of three-quarters of the House and three-quarters of the Senate.
The coalition majority in charge of the House has only 24 members and needs minority votes. (One lawmaker, Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, is not a member of either bloc.)
A $3,000 dividend is not included in the capital budget, but Pruitt said members of the minority are planning to propose an amendment adding one.
“If the amendment for the dividend did not pass, then there would not be enough votes to have the CBR language pass,” Pruitt said.
There also wouldn’t be enough support for a procedural vote known as a “reverse sweep," and dozens of state savings accounts could automatically be drained into the budget reserve, causing broader problems for the budget.
“If the capital budget doesn’t pass with a three-quarter vote, there could be up to $323 million in holes all over the budget,” said Sen. Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage and co-chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee.
Von Imhof was the original author of the capital budget, which passed the Senate earlier this year as Senate Bill 19.
“We’re going to have a s - - - show on our hands because we’re going to have to figure this out,” she said.
Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole and co-chairwoman of the House Finance Committee, is the author of the House version of the capital budget.
She said it contains money to fund critical programs, including expansions to the prison system required under the new tough-on-crime law.
“I don’t know why anybody would want to delay that,” she said.
Pruitt said allowing a dividend would represent an important compromise, because the minority feels it has already given ground on other issues.
“We should be able to come away with something where both sides can win,” he said.
The House of Representatives had been scheduled to consider the capital budget Tuesday afternoon, but that meeting was canceled. The budget may be subject to amendments Wednesday, with a vote Thursday possible.
Lawmakers are meeting in a special session that expires Friday.
“It seems like at this point we’re on a collision course to needing another special session,” Pruitt said.
Two years ago, the Legislature didn’t pass the capital budget until late July, but this year’s capital budget may affect savings accounts used by the state’s operating budget starting July 1.
If lawmakers miss that deadline, a bigger one looms: Hundreds of millions of dollars in federal highway construction aid is dependent upon the state providing some project funding. That money is in the capital budget, and if lawmakers don’t approve the capital budget before the end of July, the state will lose that federal aid, Wilson said.