Eight days after the statutory deadline, the Alaska State Legislature has adjourned. But as soon as the gavel dropped, Gov. Bill Walker issued a proclamation calling them into a special session. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez reports.
When the Alaska House gaveled out at 7pm on Monday, cheers erupted on the floor.
After a week of frustrating budget negotiations, there was a palpable sense of relief, even if most lawmakers were not necessarily enthusiastic over the budget deal that passed. With the state facing a multi-billion-dollar deficit because of low oil prices, the Legislature’s Republican majorities cobbled together a spending plan that keeps government funded through the fall. House Speaker Mike Chenault told reporters that while he was glad to reach a deal, he wished the fiscal outlook were different.
“I don’t think any of us sitting up here are real happy with the situation that we found ourselves before we started this session,” said the Nikiski Republican. “With the declining revenue stream that we had, nobody was prepared. Nobody, that I’m aware of, had the foresight to think that we would position that we’re in.”
Whatever feeling of closure there was did not last long. A little after 8pm, Gov. Bill Walker sent down a proclamation ordering the Legislature to return for a special session. It came as Senate President Kevin Meyer was getting his caucus’ turn with reporters.
“We will be coming back tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock, and we’ll be continuing our discussion on the operating budget, Medicaid, and House Bill 44 … Is that Erin’s Law?” said Meyer.
In the fourth press conference of the night, Gov. Bill Walker explained that he could not accept a budget that did not cover the full year.
“We’re starting to look like the federal government, you know, that goes until midnight on running out of money and shutting down government,” said Walker. “That’s not Alaska.”
Walker said he wants the Legislature to fully fund government by making a draw from the state’s constitutional budget reserve — which is where budget talks got hung up in the first place. That $10 billion rainy day fund requires a three-quarter vote to tap, and at least some members of the House’s Democratic minority must support the action to meet the threshold. During budget negotiations, the Democratic caucus had made their support conditional on increased education funding and expansion of Medicaid. They also wanted to see movement on a bill known as Erin’s Law, which establishes sexual abuse prevention programs in schools.
Walker’s agenda for a special session includes all of those priorities. While the governor’s proclamation requires the Legislature to convene, it does not force them to advance those items.