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Alaska Legislature

Alaska House again fails to fully fund coronavirus response, wildfire recovery and Medicaid

Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, talks to Rep. George Rauscher, R-Sutton, before the final vote on the state's supplemental budget on Wednesday, March 25, 2020. At background is Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage. (James Brooks / ADN)

JUNEAU — The Alaska House of Representatives again failed Wednesday evening to fully fund a $360 million supplemental budget assigning millions for coronavirus response, disaster recovery, community programs and Medicaid.

Thirty votes were needed to fund the bill with money from the state’s Constitutional Budget Reserve, but 11 Republicans voted against the spending and two more were excused absent, leaving the 40-member House three votes short.

As a result, only $244 million is available to cover the $360 million in designated spending.

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, said he intends to send the incomplete bill to Gov. Mike Dunleavy, and the governor will need to veto items to balance the books.

“He’s going to have some hard choices,” Edgmon said.

That isn’t entirely certain: Several budget bills are unfinished, and lawmakers could stuff additional money into those measures to cover the gap.

Republicans’ opposition to Wednesday’s vote came because it was tied to a necessary procedural vote known as the reverse sweep, and they hope to use that vote as leverage to secure a larger Permanent Fund dividend or cuts to services.

“I believe if I give up my three-quarter vote, I give up my insurance,” said Rep. George Rauscher, R-Sutton.

The two votes were tied together by the Alaska Senate, which approved the idea on a unanimous bipartisan basis. Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, said there was no chance that the Senate would be willing to untie them.

“This seems like political manipulation. I’m really disappointed,” said Rep. Mike Prax, R-North Pole.

Last year, the failure of the reverse sweep vote — also during an attempt by House Republicans to leverage it for a larger dividend — caused a brief panic as dozens of state funds started to automatically drain into the Constitutional Budget Reserve. College scholarships were interrupted, as was the program that subsidizes rural electrical prices.

That process could repeat this year unless House and Senate lawmakers approve the reverse sweep in another bill before July 1.

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