The Capitol Report May 19, 2016
By Chris Christensen
Associate Vice President for State Relations
The Second Regular Session of the 29th Alaska State Legislature ended yesterday just before midnight. It was the 121st legislative day, the session limit mandated by the Alaska Constitution. The constitution gives lawmakers the option of having one 10-day extension, if two-thirds of the House and two-thirds of the Senate vote to extend. While the Senate voted for the extension, the House fell short by one vote.
The operating budget and the capital budget did not pass before adjournment, nor did any of the deficit reduction bills proposed by Governor Walker. Because of that, the governor has called the legislature into special session in Juneau, beginning on Monday at 11:00 a.m. Special sessions may last up to 30 days and are limited to specific topics, but there is no limit on the number of special sessions that can be called. You can view the governor’s proclamation and the list of topics that are on the special session agenda here: http://akleg.gov/docs/pdf/29special/29th-special_4.pdf
As noted in the last Capitol Report, the legislature needed to access funds from state savings accounts to cover the estimated $4 billion deficit next year. The preferred method is to take the money from the Constitutional Budget Reserve (CBR), which requires a three-quarters vote of the Senate and a three-quarters vote of the House. The Senate had the votes to do that, but the House did not. The last month of the session involved behind-the-scenes negotiations between the House Minority and the majority organizations of the House and Senate. Reportedly, the House Minority would only agree to provide the votes needed to access the CBR if the majorities agreed to put more money in the operating budget for UA and certain other agencies, and if they agreed to pass some of the governor’s deficit reduction bills. A deal couldn’t be completed before midnight.
When the special session convenes, the House and Senate will most likely take up new versions of the operating and capital budgets that are identical to the versions that died yesterday. That way, they don’t have to start from scratch. As you will recall, the House operating budget contained a $50 million dollar cut for the university from the current year’s budget, while the Senate budget proposed a $25 million cut. The conference committee that was reconciling the differences between the two budgets had tentatively decided to adopt the larger House cut. That’s why the House Minority was demanding more money for UA in exchange for its CBR vote.
The Senate capital budget contained no money for the university, but the last version of the House capital budget contained $5 million for deferred maintenance. One other item in the House capital budget also involves the university, but it doesn’t have any actual fiscal impact on UA. The House bill reappropriated $18.8 million of road construction money that was originally given to the Municipality of Anchorage several years ago to design and build an extension of Elmore Road in the U-Med district. The House bill provided that UA, instead of the municipality, should manage the project and use the money to have the road extension designed and built. The Department of Transportation and Public Facilities will handle the actual design and construction of the road extension and assume responsibility for the road and right of way once the project is complete.
Legislators are tired and frustrated, and they have a difficult job to do. The operating budget is the one thing that the constitution requires the legislature to pass each session; all the other bills are optional. The operating budget needs to be finalized in time for the start of the new fiscal year on July 1, or there won’t be any money to run state government. The majorities would like to pass the budget now, and then work on the other bills. However, because funding the operating budget with the CBR is the only real leverage that the House Minority has, it wants to see the other bills actually pass before it votes on the operating budget. The special session may last the full 30 days, and there may be more special sessions later in the year, depending on the results of this one.
One additional note: when the session ended yesterday, SB 174, relating to weapons on campus, died in the House Finance Committee. It is likely to be reintroduced next January.
Thank you for all your work to promote and support the University of Alaska!
For more information, contact Associate Vice President Chris Christensen at
email@example.com or visit www.alaska.edu/state.