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Alaska budget negotiators announce tentative deal as legislative session nears deadline

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska budget negotiators announced a tentative agreement Tuesday that includes direct payments to residents this year of about $1,655, winding down a budget process that lacked the acrimony of prior years.

Lawmakers face a Wednesday deadline to complete their work, with floor dockets packed with bills. But the atmosphere around the budget conference committee of House and Senate negotiators was bright and upbeat Tuesday morning — in contrast with prior years, when the size of the yearly dividend paid to residents was a major point of contention. This year’s legislative session has been marked by tension around education and energy issues, which remained in play.

The tentative budget deal calls for a roughly $1,360 dividend to residents this year, plus an energy relief payment of $295. Dividends are traditionally paid with earnings from the Alaska Permanent Fund, a state nest-egg seeded with oil money and grown over time through investments. People must meet residency requirements to be eligible for dividends.

The payments are similar to what the Senate proposed in its version of the budget earlier this month, though the energy relief payment is slightly higher. The House version of the budget proposed checks of about $2,275 a person, including a dividend of roughly $1,650, plus energy relief payments of about $625. The conference committee was tasked with hashing out differences between the two proposals.

The agreement is subject to approval by the full House and Senate.

Republican Rep. DeLena Johnson, a co-chair of the House Finance Committee and one of the negotiators, said the level of upfront communication around the budget was different than last year. Late in the session last year, the Senate passed a budget for government operations and infrastructure projects and sent it to the House as a take-or-leave proposition. The House adjourned without voting on it, leading to a one-day special session to finalize a package.

“I think there was an attempt on both sides to make sure that … the appropriate process was followed and that there was transparency in what we did,” she told reporters Tuesday.

Last year’s dividend was $1,312 a person.

The budget plan also includes a one-time, $175 million boost in foundation funding for K-12 schools. School leaders and education advocates sought a permanent increase in aid, citing the toll that inflation and high energy and insurance costs have taken on their budgets and a need for greater budget certainty. But a bill passed overwhelmingly by lawmakers earlier this session that included a permanent $175 million increase in aid to districts through a school funding formula was vetoed by Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, and lawmakers failed by one vote to override that veto.

Becky Bohrer, The Associated Press


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