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Gov. Walker to Legislature: Stay in Juneau, finish the budget

  • Author: Pat Forgey
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published April 29, 2015

JUNEAU -- Nobody's happy, but legislators were back at work in Juneau on Wednesday after Gov. Bill Walker rejected their request for a couple of weeks off and a move to Anchorage.

"Do not leave Juneau without a fully funded budget," Walker said.

Legislators earlier tried to pass a budget that came $3 billion short of balancing and leave town, but Walker immediately called them back into a special session to deal with the budget, as well as two of his other priorities, expansion of the federal Medicaid program in Alaska and Erin's Law, a bill intended to prevent child sexual abuse.

Balancing the budget in a year when oil revenues plunged will take at least $3 billion from the state's $10 billion Constitutional Budget Reserve, but unlike the Senate, the House of Representatives was unable to muster the 30 votes -- three-quarters -- needed to draw from the reserve.

Walker offered a deal he said might help: addressing the budget questions immediately in Juneau, but dealing with Medicaid expansion and Erin's Law later at a special session in Anchorage.

"I don't think that's unreasonable; I think it's a fair compromise," Walker said Wednesday after meeting with House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, and Senate President Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage.

Chenault said the Legislature was continuing to consider the budget and other issues, with the House and Senate finance committees meeting Wednesday and more meetings scheduled for Thursday, as they are required.

"We'll be here until they run us out of this building, which won't be long," he said.

Workers are mobilizing for the second year of a three-year seismic retrofit of the historic Capitol building, which will be noisy and make some offices unusable. Those wanting to move the legislative special session to Anchorage have been hoping to use the looming construction as an argument in their favor.

Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, who leads the Democratic caucus that has blocked the Constitutional Budget Reserve withdrawal in the House, said he wants to stay in Juneau until a deal is reached that adequately funds education.

Despite having a new baby at home, Tuck said the decisions on Medicaid expansion and education funding are too important to let him leave Juneau.

"Do I want to be home with my newborn? You bet I do, but I don't want to sacrifice Alaska's future to do that," he said.

Walker said that at some point Capitol construction may be an issue, but everyone should keep working for now.

"Part of the complication is the work going on in this building -- that will probably come into play, but that's no one's fault," he said.

But Juneau officials don't want to lose the legislative session and Walker said he's heard from them that they'll make sure meeting space is available in Juneau even if the Capitol isn't available.

At a press conference with Walker, Juneau Empire reporter James Brooks conveyed that message to Walker.

"I spoke with Mayor Merrill Sanford," Brooks said prior to the press conference, and the message he was asked to deliver to Walker was "Tell him to stay here."

Brooks said people in Juneau were "adamantly opposed" to the Legislature going to Anchorage.

But Chenault said that a move could be good for the process, and that Walker's offer of dealing with the budget in Juneau and the other issues later in Anchorage wasn't needed.

"There's no reason we can't do it all in one spot, and our preferred spot is Anchorage," he said.

He said legislators are not confident that the flood of calls and emails they are getting about such things such as education funding and Medicaid expansion are truly reflective of Alaskans.

"Get us out of here, let us get home to our constituents, let us hear what they are saying, not what we're getting in emails. What my constituents are saying is considerably different than what I keep hearing in emails," Chenault said.

Tuck dismissed Walker's compromise as well, saying that while Democrats have the power over the CBR, they don't want to give up the fight for Medicaid expansion.

"We just don't agree with the governor that we get through with the budget before we get to Medicaid expansion," he said.

Expansion is also an important part of a budget solution, he said, because of the savings it brings to the state.