Alaska House votes to avert government shutdown

Men and women in suit jackets talk and huddle in a meeting room.
Members of the Republican House minority caucus meet during a break in the floor session on Monday, June 28, 2021, in the Capitol. The House voted to avert shutting down much of state government. (Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

The Alaska House of Representatives voted Monday to allow the budget bill to go into effect on Thursday, July 1, averting what would have been the state’s first-ever government shutdown.

The vote was 28-10.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy said he’s reviewing the budget for any line items he may veto, and then he’ll prepare the budget for implementation.

House Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, said Monday’s vote will likely come as a relief to many, including the state workers who would’ve gotten laid off under a shutdown.

“We’ve got a lot of Alaskans that are probably jumping for joy about now, thinking that their paychecks are going to continue on coming,” she said.

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Wasilla Rep. Cathy Tilton was among the legislators who changed their vote Monday for the budget to take effect July 1 — the start of the budget year — after voting against it earlier this month.

Tilton is the leader of the Republican House minority caucus. She said there’s a lot of work left to do to fix the state’s structural budget problem.

“I would not say that it is a win or a victory,” she said. “I believe that it is a beginning and a start.”

The budget vote will allow the vast majority of state services to continue. But some programs will stop at least temporarily. Those programs include one to reduce the cost of energy in high-cost regions of Alaska, and another that provides academic scholarships and need-based grants for college students. It also leaves the amount of this year’s Permanent Fund dividend at $525.

Legislators from all four caucuses have said they want to reach an agreement that would allow the programs to resume and for the PFD to be higher. But there are disagreements over what it will take to reach a deal.

Three-quarters of both the House and the Senate must vote to fund the programs from a separate savings account called the Constitutional Budget Reserve.

Tilton said her caucus wants to resolve the future of the PFD this year. And she said withholding the votes to draw from the budget reserve is part of an effort to make that happen.

“We still have the three-quarter vote ahead of us. And we’re going to hold onto that,” she said.

The House on Monday also passed a motion supporting the launch of a “bicameral non-partisan working group” to recommend changes that would lead to a long-term balanced budget, including a spending cap, new revenues and spending reductions.

The group will include members of both the House and Senate, and it will hold at least two public meetings and make recommendations before the next special session, according to the motion.

Dunleavy has called for another special session to begin Aug. 2.

Both chambers voted to adjourn the current special session on Monday, which lasted six days. 

Monday’s deal on a spending plan stems from a disagreement over when the budget bill should take effect.

Earlier, on June 15, the House voted 23-16 against the budget bill starting on July 1.

The state constitution requires that two-thirds of both chambers agree to make bills effective on a date other than 90 days after bills become laws. The Senate cleared that two-thirds bar, but the House didn’t — until Monday.

Dunleavy, a Republican, and members of the mostly-Democratic House majority had sparred over whether the lack of a two-thirds vote meant the government had to shutdown. Dunleavy said it did, and his administration sued over it. Arguments on that lawsuit are scheduled for Tuesday. 

RELATED: With new lawsuit, Alaska Gov. Dunleavy’s administration escalates budget feud with legislators

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Andrew Kitchenman is the state government and politics reporter for Alaska Public Media and KTOO in Juneau. Reach him at akitchenman@alaskapublic.org.

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