A week into special session, work hasn’t begun

Division among lawmakers has stalled work

A week into the Alaska State Legislature’s fourth special session, only two brief floor sessions have been held in each body and no legislation has been debated.

Technical sessions of the Alaska House of Representatives and Senate were held Friday inside a mostly quiet Capitol building as Senate leadership deliberates on how to proceed with the session.

On Monday, the state House of Representatives passed a resolution that would extend the required time between floor sessions, allowing lawmakers to hold committee meetings in other parts of the state. But last-minute demands from members of the Senate majority caucus complicated those efforts, and now most lawmakers are waiting for the Senate to act.

Earlier in the week, minority caucus leaders Sen. Tom Begich, D-Anchorage and Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, told the Empire their members were eager to work, but the schedule of the sessions was out of their hands.

Sen. President Peter Micciche’s, R-Soldotna, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Some Republican lawmakers and Gov. Mike Dunleavy are calling for a supplemental Permanent Fund dividend this year, arguing the above-average performance of the Alaska Permanent Fund this year can fund the payments.

But in order to pay a larger dividend, the Legislature would have to draw additional money from the Earnings Reserve Account of the Alaska Permanent Fund, breaking a 5% draw limit lawmakers set for themselves in 2018. Lawmakers in both parties and both chambers of the Legislature are opposed to doing that, particularly without resolving the state’s fiscal deficit issues.

A fiscal policy working group established over the summer estimated the state would need an additional $500-775 million in new revenues to balance its budget. But lawmakers are deeply opposed over how best to reach that goal. Democratic lawmakers have introduced various tax bills, but Tilton previously told the Empire her caucus is against an income tax and suspicious of other kinds of taxes.

The last special session ended with lawmakers divided over the same issues, and there’s little confidence the situation has changed. On Monday Begich told the Empire he didn’t believe any legislation would be passed during this session, but lawmakers could have legislation ready for the beginning of the next session.

Last Friday afternoon, both bodies adjourned until Tuesday, Oct. 12, at 2 p.m.

Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com.