With one day left in special session, little public progress on budget

Senate President Pete Kelly gives a statement on the budget on Thursday. Kelly wants legislative leaders to focus on the budget. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

Leaders from both chambers of the Legislature met behind closed doors Thursday as they tried to reach a budget agreement.

But there was little public progress.

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The 30-day special session will end Friday and the House and Senate majorities remained far apart.

Fairbanks Republican Senate President Pete Kelly said leaders should focus on the budget.

“The highest priority we have in the Senate is to avoid a government shutdown and that means we have to pass an operating budget,” Kelly said. “The consequences of a government shutdown are devastating. A lot of people think it just affects the public sector, but that’s not true. It’s the private sector as well.”

Kelly singled out the state’s fishing industry as an example of an important business sector likely to be damaged by a shutdown.

Dillingham Democratic House Speaker Bryce Edgmon was in a caucus meeting Thursday afternoon. On Wednesday evening, he said the House majority wanted to reach an agreement on a long-term plan to balance the amount the state government spends with what it receives.

“Our caucus has taken a very difficult, but we think appropriate, position in that we want to get a responsible budget in place this year,” Edgmon said. “We do not want a shutdown. But we also do not want to be back in this situation again next year.”

Kelly said it’s still possible to reach an agreement tonight and tomorrow.

If that doesn’t happen, Gov. Bill Walker is likely to call lawmakers into another special session. The Legislature must pass a budget before July 1 to prevent a shutdown.