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Alaska lawmakers open special session after failing to reach budget deal

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska lawmakers began a special session Thursday after failing to reach agreement on a state spending package during their four-month regular session.

Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy called the special session after the House failed to take up a budget plan sent over by the Senate as a take-or-leave proposition. The Senate adjourned Wednesday evening after passing its plan and leaders of the chamber’s bipartisan majority said they hoped the Republican-led House would agree to it.

But the House, after several Republican members complained there was insufficient time to review the package, adjourned without voting on the bill. Wednesday marked the end of the 121-day regular session.

Special sessions last up to 30 days. The new fiscal year begins July 1. The Senate convened around noon Thursday. The House was expected to meet later.

Generally, the House takes the lead crafting the state operating budget and sends its version to the Senate for additional work; the Senate takes the lead on the infrastructure budget. Differences in what ultimately passes each chamber are usually hashed out by negotiators in a conference committee. The House sent an operating budget over to the Senate around mid-April.

But the Senate crammed the capital budget into its version of the operating budget and did not vote on the package until Wednesday. Senate leaders said they tried to craft a plan the House would be amenable to. Republican House leaders bristled at what they saw as strong-arm tactics by the Senate.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat and Senate Rules chair, said there were “good faith efforts on our part to try to put something forward that we felt reflected the concerns of their caucus.”

A major difference has been what size the annual dividend payment to residents should be.

Dividends have traditionally been paid using earnings from the state’s oil-wealth fund, the Alaska Permanent Fund. But in 2018, lawmakers, facing deficits and disagreements over how to diversify the state’s heavy reliance on oil revenue, began using fund earnings to also help pay for government. Lawmakers additionally sought to cap how much could be withdrawn from earnings each year. That has created a rub — and perennial fight – over how much should go to each obligation.

The House proposed a roughly $2,700 check while the Senate proposed a dividend of about $1,300, with the potential for up to an additional $500 per person next year if oil prices are higher than forecast.

Senate leaders have said they do not want to use savings to help cover costs, something they said the House proposal would require.

Dunleavy is on a “brief hunting trip” before the start of a conference on energy policy he is convening next week in Anchorage, spokesperson Jeff Turner said by email. Dunleavy is in contact with staff about the special session, Turner said.

Becky Bohrer, The Associated Press


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