House and Senate negotiators complete budget proposal

Committee aide Marta Lastufka preps a room in the Bill Ray Center for the operating budget conference committee, May 18, 2016. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)
Committee aide Marta Lastufka preps a room in the Bill Ray Center for the operating budget conference committee, May 18, 2016. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

Late on Memorial Day, House and Senate negotiators completed their conference committee work on a proposed state operating budget. They were 26 hours ahead of a still looming deadline.

Now, to avoid a second year of mass layoff notices to state workers and another government shutdown scare, the pressure is on lawmakers to take the negotiated deal as-is.

Sen. Anna MacKinnon, an Eagle River Republican on the conference committee, said their plan was a bipartisan and bicameral effort “to make sure that state employees do not face pink slips tomorrow in a real tough time for Alaska. … The budget before us … addresses the need to cut, the need to invest and the need to compromise.”

The operating budget bill is now bound for the Senate and the House, separately, at 1 p.m.

Like earlier plans, the proposed budget requires cashing out a lot of state savings — $3.2 billion in this case. Lawmakers’ go-to budget reserve requires a three-quarters supermajority to use. That’s given minority Democrats in the House some leverage.

The conference committee restored some money for K-12 public schools, the University of Alaska, child care benefits, and senior and disabilities services.

Fairbanks Republican Sen. Pete Kelly, who co-chaired the conference committee, even agreed to drop an across-the-board executive branch cut worth $100 million. The committee said equivalent savings would come from criminal justice and health care reforms.

After the meeting, Kelly said the votes for savings draw will be there, unless “somebody broke their word.” He called the operating budget the “first domino to fall” in a series.

Other outstanding special session dominos include a capital budget, restructuring the Alaska Permanent Fund and its earnings reserve, shoring up the health insurance market, new or increased taxes, and medical insurance for survivors of peace officers and firefighters under Alaska’s public employee retirement system.