With No Budget Deal In Sight, Lawmakers Hold Brief Technical Session

When the Alaska State Legislature voted to take a recess, they set May 12 as the date they would reconvene in Juneau. But with no deal on a budget or Medicaid expansion, most lawmakers remained in Anchorage or in their home districts on Tuesday. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports from a sleepy Capitol, as the threat of government shutdown looms.

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With just a handful of legislators in the chambers, the House floor session lasted about ten minutes. The Senate lasted just five. Skipping right over the usual prayer and pledge of allegiance, leadership breezed through the agenda of what is known as a technical session — a meeting where a few lawmakers gavel in simply to keep the clock going.

The only real action was a series of floor speeches offered by the minority members in attendance. Sitka Democrat Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins bemoaned the gridlock and the risk of a government shutdown if a deal is not reached.

“I don’t think the Washington-D.C.-ification of our politics is a healthy trend,” said Kreiss-Tomkins. “It’s really distressing for me to hear the words ‘government shutdown’ in association with our state government. Normally, that’s something we hear about with the the federal government.”

Meanwhile, Juneau Democrat Sam Kito chided the Legislature for relocating to Anchorage, as the sound of drills working on Capitol renovations interrupted him.

Nobody mentioned anything about progress. The Legislature was supposed to gavel out of its regular session on April 19, but lawmakers have been at an impasse over the budget. With the state facing a multi-billion dollar deficit, lawmakers need a supermajority to balance it with funds from the rainy day account. But House Democrats have said they will not support that without Medicaid expansion and more money for education.

After the session, House Speaker Mike Chenault told reporters that negotiations are ongoing. He said no bargaining points have been settled, and a divide still exists between the Democratic and Republican caucuses.

“Just trying to find out what the minority needs to get out of here, and unfortunately that’s the exact opposite of what the Senate would like to see and what a number of House members would like to see,” said Chenault, a Nikiski Republican. “They don’t want to see the budget increase. And so, it’s a matter of trying to figure out a way to not increase the budget but still get us the three-quarter vote that we need.”

In the meantime, no votes have been taken on any of the three special session agenda items: the budget, Medicaid expansion, and a sexual abuse prevention bill known as Erin’s Law. While the House already passed Erin’s Law in the regular session and continues to hold daily finance hearings, the Senate has held just two meetings since the governor called them into special session.

At an afternoon press conference, Gov. Bill Walker said he was frustrated by the lack of progress made during the special session.

“What I’m saying to the Legislature today is: Please do your job. Do it now,” said Walker. “Give us a budget that’s funded, accept Medicaid expansion, and pass Erin’s Law. Three things. You know, we can’t spend the entire summer working on these and we shouldn’t.”

The next floor sessions are scheduled for Friday and Saturday this week, and are expected to be technical sessions barring any deal between lawmakers.

If a compromise on the budget cannot be brokered, the state government is at risk of shutting down as soon as this summer.