Hughes leaves Senate majority over budget

Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Anchorage, describes education legislation to the Senate Finance Committee in April. Hughes left the Senate majority caucus over the budget. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

For the second time this year, a Republican from Matanuska-Susitna Borough left the state Senate majority caucus. Palmer Sen. Shelley Hughes left the caucus last Thursday to oppose the state budget.

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Hughes was the only senator to vote against the $4.1 billion operating budget. She said she wished the majority had pushed for deeper budget cuts before it compromised with the House.

“I wish we would have pulled over a little bit more so that when we met in the middle … the middle would have been different than what it is today,” Hughes said.

Since the majority requires its members to vote for the budget, Hughes’ decision to vote no on the budget essentially meant she left the caucus.

Hughes opposed cutting Permanent Fund dividends.

Due to the budget gap, Hughes said she would first support further spending cuts. Then, she would support a statewide sales tax.

“People in my district, they just want to see more reductions first, and so I have to honor that,” Hughes said. “And that is how I campaigned … and I have to be a person of my word.”

Hughes will lose some of her four committee assignments, including her spot on the powerful Finance Committee. She will also lose funding for legislative aides.

Hughes joined Wasilla Republican Sen. Mike Dunleavy in leaving the majority.

Dunleavy said he understood why Hughes made her decision. He said it’s difficult for senators to balance their own positions with the caucus’s needs.

“I think that’s the problem for many folks still in the caucus,” Dunleavy said. “There are a lot of good folks, I mean, they’re all good folks, but in terms of thinking on your own and making your decision on your own, that generally goes against the whole caucus concept.”

Dunleavy said he also would have voted against the budget. Dunleavy added that he’ll talk with Hughes about forming a new, two-person caucus.