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June 15, 2021

Headlines:

Hey, Alaska! Stop being Big Oil’s Giving Tree.

TALL TALES from Juneau

Eyes on the Dunleavy/Babcock administration

THE END OF THE ROAD -ish

 

SINE DIE
The first of at least two legislative special sessions is over. They have gaveled out “sine die” which is Latin for “without day,” meaning “without assigning a day for a further meeting or hearing.” Most people pronounce it “SY-nee DIE” which is completely wrong. If you want to impress your friends at a post-special session barbecue or cocktail party this weekend you can tell them it’s actually “SIN-uh DEE-uh.”

So, now that we’ve got our obscure procedural Latin phrases in order, here’s a hopefully not too in the weeds wrap-up of where we stand right now.

THE OPERATING BUDGET

The Operating budget is the portion of the budget which deals with the operations of the state, and includes education, transportation, and health services, among many other things. A lack of an operating budget is what can shut the state government down if there’s no agreement between the House and Senate by July 1 – the first day of the fiscal year. After creating a Conference Committee (a group of legislators from both parties, and both bodies) the chosen members of House and Senate came up with a compromise between the devastating budget cuts the governor wanted, and the proposed budget from former Gov. Bill Walker that they started with. They met in the middle with some significant cuts, but not nearly the amount the governor pushed for. The part of the operating budget that promised to gum up the works was the PFD because legislators were nowhere near figuring out what to do with it. BUT, the legislature voted to sever the PFD from the operating budget and set it off to the side. This allowed the operating budget to pass, avoided a state government shutdown, and let the PFD be dealt with at another time. Now the operating budget lands upon the desk of “Mr. Red Pen,” the governor. The way that the governorship was established when Alaska became a state gives the governor broad powers. One of those powers is the ability to line-item veto items in the budget he doesn’t like. So instead of a big yes or no on the budget as a whole, he can go in and eliminate line by line some or all of the funding that the legislature put back in after Dunleavy’s original proposal.

THE CAPITAL BUDGET

The capital budget is the budget that handles physical stuff – like infrastructure projects, roads, bridges, school repairs, deferred maintenance on building projects, etc. The capital budget normally doesn’t have anything to do with the PFD, but after the PFD was severed from the operating budget, the Minority Republicans in the House tried to stick a full $3000 PFD on to the capital budget, as an amendment. This gave everyone an opportunity to talk about the PFD again, and the mammoth floor session went on for many hours. If you are interested in hearing how your representative feels, you can go HERE (Part 1) and HERE (Part 2) and scan through the floor session. Let’s just say that there are as many opinions as there are legislators, and the full $3000 PFD vs. the $1600 PFD, vs. the $900 PFD have proponents of all stripes. The full PFD is mostly (but not exclusively) supported by Republicans; the $1600 PFD is mostly (but not exclusively) supported by Democrats; and the $900 PFD has two Republican supporters. The deadline for the capital budget to be nailed down is the end of July. If it’s still then like it is now, we lose all the federal matching money.

WE WANT STUFF BUT WE WON’T PAY FOR IT

Want Stuff! (Yes votes)

Won’t pay for it! (No votes)

Once the amendment to stick the PFD on to the capital budget failed, the budget itself was voted on. It passed with broad support! YAY! But don’t get too excited yet. The second part of this is the vote to FUND the budget. You would think it would all be one vote, but they have to decide how to fund and where the money is coming from. And when the money is coming from “the CBR” which is the Constitutional Budget Reserve savings account you have to have ¾ of the members vote in favor instead of just a simple majority for the funding. Apparently, the Republican Minority decided that even though they support the capital budget and all it provides, they’re mad about the PFD vote, and so to make a statement about how mad they are, they aren’t going to fund the capital budget. Just to be contrarians. Now, remember that by not funding it, we are also turning away more than $1B in matching grants from the federal government for highways and other things; we’re not fully funding the “tough on crime” bill that the very same people were so eager to pass; and we’re losing construction jobs associated with capital projects that everyone likes. Why are the Minority Republicans doing this? Because they can. And so here we are with an approved budget with mostly no funding.

 

SPECIAL SESSION 2.0 – A thrilla in Wasilla

If you haven’t seen the Alaska Landmine’s coverage of the “Rally in the Valley”… click HERE

The gentleman talking with his hand to Jeff Landfield is the governor’s failed appointee to the Commission on Aging.

Well, that sine die status didn’t last long. Moments after the gavel dropped, the governor announced a second special session at the Wasilla Middle School for the sole purpose of dealing with the PFD – NOT the unfunded capital budget, just the PFD. Dunleavy’s base has been whipped up into a froth by the governor’s blogger, online groups, and Americans for Prosperity (the Koch Brothers organization that funded the governor’s slash-and-burn budget road show), and is waiting with torches, pitchforks and expletives to have at the legislators when they arrive. But there seems to be little appetite from the legislators on either side of the aisle to go to Wasilla (I can’t imagine why), and there are several possibilities about how this special session can be dealt with in another location. More to come on that soon. “At this point, a change in venue is necessary to refocus the conversation and remind lawmakers about the people and their PFD. Once the issue of the PFD is solved, these other budgetary issues will fall into place quickly,” said the governor. It’s almost like he’s hinting that the capital budget is the latest hostage victim, and that unless the $3000 is passed, good-bye federal funds and capital projects – for which he will doubtless blame the Democrats.

 

THE PFD

No subject has raised more ire, or invoked more history lessons, and budget lessons, and legal disputes, and temper tantrums than the Permanent Fund Dividend. And good people on both sides disagree. Granted, it’s difficult not to think of this as a partisan issue when the governor and his rankled minions are behaving badly online and on camera, acting like cretins, and themselves trying to make it a partisan issue saying Democrats are trying to “steal your PFD.” But not everyone who wants a full PFD payout is a Republican, and not everyone who wants a modest PFD payout is a Democrat. In fact, stalwart Democrat Sen. Bill Wielechowski has been at the forefront of saving the full PFD since before anyone else even thought it would come under threat, and Sen. Scott Kawasaki and Sen. Tom Begich are pushing for its constitutional protections. And conservative Republicans Sen. Natasha von Imhof and Sen. Chris Birch were the two votes to slash the PFD not to $1600 but to $900! If you had tuned in to the House floor debate the other day, you would have heard Democrats arguing against irresponsible spending and for conservative fiscal policy, and you’d have heard Republicans lauding the social safety net and urging compassion for Alaska’s neediest people who depend on a check from the government. Gavel to Gavel is going to have to start handing out whiplash collars if this keeps up.

There is currently a “PFD working group” underway, which is much like the Conference Committee on the budget, where members from both parties and both bodies meet and try to hash out their differences. They’ll come up with a recommendation at some point (no deadline) and suggest it to the rest of their colleagues and then, presumably there’s a vote where people either listen to the recommendation or do what they want. The way it stacks out now is that there are 5 members who seem to support the modified $1600ish PFD, and three members who support a full PFD. They’ve only just gotten started exploring different options, but make of that membership what you will. And all of this messy, sausage-making, ideological, legal, and political battling leads us to the big question:

HOW ARE WE EVER GOING TO GET OUT OF THIS MESS?

There are many ways this can go. And they all end up in the same place.

Here’s one scenario:

Pay out a full PFD under current statute, and then have the legislature actually change the statute for future PFDs. Put the PFD and the new formula, whether it’s the current formula or a different formula, in the Constitution, with all the protections that affords, so it’s not up for discussion any more, and doesn’t suck all the oxygen out of the room forever. Future legislatures will thank us.

Then, we must drastically reduce or eliminate corporate subsidies in the form of oil tax credits. Even if we didn’t give a penny of credits to these companies, Alaska would still be their most profitable place to do business by far. And we simply cannot afford to hemorrhage billions of dollars from our treasury to further enrich the most profitable companies on the planet – especially when it comes at the expense of our children’s education, our ability to move about the state, our university system, the health and well-being of our elders, disabled Alaskans, and neediest residents. That is not who we are. And this is what we all, as Alaskans, need to go to the mat for. And stand together for. And insist upon.

Because, THAT is the choice. It’s not about PFD vs. government services. It’s about oil subsidies vs. both of those things. And we’ve waited, and drawn it out until we’ve spent down almost every dollar of our savings, and we’ve cut our state budgets by more than 40% (and now even more!) and we simply don’t have anything left to give.

So, now is the time to prepare – not next session, NOW is the time to contact your legislator and tell them that we can’t be the oil companies’ Giving Tree anymore. We’ve given all we can give, and now we’re a stump, and it’s time to reclaim our fair share for the resources we own as residents of this state.

 

ENJOY THE BREAK

And that’s where we stand, Alaskans. You may now feel free to have a moose dog, or a halibut skewer, and enjoy our beautiful state for the next few weeks while legislators take deep breaths, and reboot their systems for the next round. It’s confusing and it’s frustrating, but it’s all worth fighting for. Don’t forget that.

Comments

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Comments
One Response to “Hey, Alaska! Stop being Big Oil’s Giving Tree.”
  1. mike from iowa says:

    I remember years ago Jeanne Devon and others knew what a cluster**** tax giveaways to Big Awl were and the effects on the budget of the state. Voters didn’t listen to the Prophetess of Truth then. Maybe you will listen to Her now.

    Wingnut’s generosity to Big Awl and the koch bros is never reciprocated with more jobs and higher wages. Just more demands for more taxpayer dollars into the pockets of the least needy people in the Universe. Ms Devon has spoken truth to power. Are you listening, Alaska?

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