As Legislature Gavels In For Special Session, Leaders Ask For Break And Relocation

Immediately after the Legislature gaveled out of their extended regular session, Gov. Bill Walker called them back in for a special one.

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On Tuesday morning, legislators — some reluctantly, some bedraggled, and some remarkably chipper — reconvened at 10 a.m., for five-minute floor sessions. They received a message from the governor, asking them to do three things: expand Medicaid, create a sexual abuse prevention program for schools, and pass a budget that pays for government for a whole year.

Rather than launch straight into committee hearings, lawmakers then broke up into a series of closed-door meetings. There were caucus meetings, leadership meetings, and meetings with the governor. House Speaker Mike Chenault said he broached the idea of taking a two-week recess and then reconvening back in Anchorage, noting that construction is scheduled to start on the Capitol building in a matter of days.

As that all was happening, Walker’s new budget dropped. It reverses the Legislature’s freeze on raises for unionized state employees. It restores some money for education, but still included his original cut of $32 million of one-time funding for schools. And, predictably, it also includes language that lets the state accept federal dollars to expand Alaska’s Medicaid program.

In all, it adds $90 million in state spending that had been cut by the Legislature, amounting to a 2 percent increase in money used from the unrestricted general fund.

His budget also requires a draw from the constitutional budget reserve — the hard-to-access rainy day fund responsible for a stalemate in the first place. The $10 billion account requires a three-quarter vote for a withdrawal, which means at least some minority Democrats have to vote for it. They have said in budget negotiations that their support is conditional on increased funding for education and Medicaid expansion.

The House Finance Committee is scheduled to hear that budget bill on Wednesday.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Walker’s new budget reverses a freeze on cost-of-living adjustments for public employees. The new budget reverses a freeze on contractual raises for unionized state employees.