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November 28, 2021

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High Drama in the Legislature!

TALL TALES from Juneau

Eyes on the Dunleavy/Babcock administration

HIGH DRAMA in the Legislature

This may, or may not be an actual photo of Lora Reinbold

ACT 1 – The House

Today the House voted to rescind their previous vote, and in one final last-ditch effort managed to cobble enough votes together to pass a capital (construction) budget, and a “reverse sweep” to re-fund all the accounts that had been drained at the end of the fiscal year on June 30th. The governor can still line-item veto items in the capital budget itself, but programs re-funded by the reverse sweep are now immune to the governor’s tampering. These protected items include: highway and airport maintenance which will draw $1 billion in federal matching dollars; Alaska performance scholarships to the University of Alaska; the WWAMI medical school program; some funds that serve the homeless and victims of domestic violence; and  the bipartisan crime bill that passed this year. This should have been an easy vote. But thanks to the House Minority Republicans, aka “Team Wasilla” this has been long, painful, and down to the wire. Apparently, the Anchorage contingent of Team Wasilla got a wake-up call from their constituents, and flipped their votes after playing hooky at the Wasilla Middle School while their colleagues were trying to repeal the vetoes in Juneau. It was almost too little too late, and caused a lot of unnecessary angst, and stress. Conspicuously absent from the floor debate today was Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, husband of the governor’s communications director. He usually has a lot to say about his own opinions, but today he was strangely mum.

[Nays: Eastman, Jackson, Sullivan-Leonard, Tilton, Vance, Wilson. Rauscher voted no on the funding but yes on the bill]

 

Act 2 – The Senate

The Senate just voted to pass an amended version of House Bill 2001 which overturns many of the governor’s vetoes and provides for a $1600 PFD. Sen. Lora Reinbold (R-Eagle River), who has been dubbed on Twitter as the “David Eastman of the Senate,” had two lengthy and rambling floor speeches in which she went on about not being a lawbreaker and legislation passed in Juneau is “illegal” and that her fellow lawmakers might be committing felonies, and that she had previously voted for the budget but only “under duress.” It got so bad that Senate Majority Leader, Lyman Hoffman, stopped her for a point of order, and Senate President Cathy Giessel had to reprimand her and tell her to stay on topic. She ignored the directive and had to be stopped FOUR TIMES. She ended up being the only no vote on the budget which will likely result in her losing her position in the caucus. She’s been down this road before, losing her office and staff while she was in the House, and now she’s done a repeat performance in the Senate. Prepare for a lot of Facebooking on her page tonight. But that wasn’t the only drama of the day.

Senator Mike Shower (R-Wasilla) and Senator Shelley Hughes (R-Palmer) actually asked to be excused – not tomorrow, not next week – but in the middle of the floor session (!!!) so they wouldn’t have to vote. They left the chamber, and left the building, so they too may have endangered their own positions in the caucus. It’s customary for caucuses to require a unified vote on budget bills, and anyone who has signed up for a caucus knows this. Stay tuned to find out about a potential reorganization of the Senate Majority.  Sen. Tom Begich (D-Anchorage) said the last he heard they were “headed out of the building with suitcases.”

[Nay: Reinbold. Absent: Hughes, Shower]

The final bill that passed the Senate gives $5 million back to the ferry system, added back school bond debt reimbursement, returned $110 million to the university, $50 million in Medicaid add-back, $2 million to public broadcasting, $8.8 million to Headstart, Best Beginnings and early childhood education programs, $2.7 million to the Arts Council, $1 million to fisheries management, $3 million for the Village Public Safety Officers program and more. It doesn’t restore ALL of the governor’s vetoes, but it restores many.

That bill now goes back again to the House in its amended form where concurrence will require a simple majority of 21 votes. Then, if that happens, off to the governor’s desk… again, where everything could be vetoed…again. And around we go.

 

ACT 3 – Oil taxes

Just another day in the #akleg

After diving into that quagmire, let’s rinse off by reminding ourselves of the real fight. Despite what it looks like, and despite how some have tried to frame it, GOVERNMENT SERVICES vs. PFD is not the fight. And it was great to hear our Democratic leaders in the Senate talk about that today.

Right now, under our current tax structure, the oil industry is receiving $1.2-1.8 billion in deductible oil tax credits, despite producing a lot less oil. And we receive a lot less than we used to get and are trying our best to make it stretch farther. You can see how THAT’s working out.

We were told that SB21, the “More Alaska Production Act” of 2013 would fix everything. It’s very clear that it didn’t. And Republican stonewalling of legislation that would reform the system has brought us to this point. There have been plenty of attempts by Democratic legislators to fix our broken and unsustainable system of oil taxes and tax credits. But the bills never even get a hearing. They are killed in committee by Republicans every time. And make no mistake, our governor has fought this idea in the past and continues to do so now.

The Senate Democrats asked the governor to add oil tax credit reform to the call of the special session. The governor not only said no, he has now given a single-source contract to his former budget guy, Ed King, to prepare for battle against oil tax reform. You may remember King from his performance before the Senate Finance Committee defending against all logic Donna Arduin and Mike Dunleavy’s draconian budget cuts. Both Democrats and Republicans on that committee knew better. And King refused to answer questions about the real-world impacts of the governor’s proposed budget and presented skewed numbers to bolster Dunleavy’s agenda. And now with his new contract, we can expect that he’ll be parroting those false talking points on behalf of the oil industry and at the direction of the governor.

What does this tell you? It’s not about balancing the budget, and it’s not about what’s best for Alaskans. It’s not even about the PFD. The governor’s message, loud and clear, is that the oil industry is his number one priority, and he’s going to fight the people he took an oath to serve every step of the way to make sure it is they who suffer first.

Democrats who’ve had the right idea all along have been put into a box. Since no Republican has been willing to talk about oil tax credits so far, Democrats have been faced with a limited choice, and have had to compromise with less services than we want, and a smaller PFD than we want because our fair share of oil revenue has been taken off the table. If it were on the table, guess what we’d have? A full PFD, and a funded budget that includes the vital state services we want. Win-win for the people of Alaska.

 

THE ENCORE – They’re talking about it

And today, on the floor, Senators Bill Wielechowski and Tom Begich BOTH talked about our missing oil revenue, and the necessity of putting everything on the table before Alaskans are asked to sacrifice basic services. During a press conference after the floor session, Sen. Donny Olson (D- Golovin) said, “Oil industry is well aware there is a state of unrest in the constituency of Alaska.” Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson reiterated her support and cosponsorship for Sen. Wielechowski’s SB14 to repeal $1.2 billion in credits. Tom Begich said he’s been talking to folks in the oil industry itself, and they’ve said they are having difficulties recruiting people INTO the state because of the current situation precipitated by the governor. Turns out people who work for the oil industry want their kids to have good schools, and a university, and care about the homeless, and elderly too. Now if the governor and his Budget Director would just catch up. And speaking of the governor…

 

MEANWHILE IN ASPEN

In case you missed it, the governor had a nice trip to Aspen, Colorado for the Republican Governors Association convention last week while the legislature was duking it out and trying to minimize the devastation caused by his budget. He was the only freshman governor that Governing Magazine put in the “struggling” category, and apparently he has ignored any words of wisdom he may have gotten from actual non-struggling governors. He’s back in Alaska now and doubling down on the budget vetoes. “Did I think this was going to cause a very heated discussion in the state of Alaska? I did.” I guess by “causing heated discussions” he meant shuttering the State Council on the Arts, letting UA declare financial exigency, watching Moody’s Investment Service downgrade not only the university but the state itself from “stable” to “negative” and cause poor people to lose dental coverage in the middle of procedures. Those “discussions,” as he calls them, have a real-world cost to a lot of people. And they didn’t seem to involve a lot of listening on his part.

 

AND FINALLY, A HAPPY ENDING

The level of dysfunction in government from the highest levels on down has inspired a new crop of great candidates who are ready to clean House and Senate!

Alyse Galvin is back in the ring and ready to take on Congressman Don Young. Not only did she raise $100k in her first 48 hours, but The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) just put Don Young on their list of most vulnerable incumbents!

Patricia Faye Brazel is also in the running taking another swing at David Eastman who has tested the patience of every one of his peers and the entire viewing audience of Gavel to Gavel with his intolerance, intransigence, and endless hair-splitting. Surely, Wasillans are ready for some fresh air!

And Lyn Franks is running again too! She almost knocked out Gabrielle LeDoux last time, and the Rep. from East Anchorage has done herself no favors in this session. Just a few more votes this time around, and we’ve got another Anchorage Dem!

Chins up, everyone. The times are dark, but we can and must work for the blue wave to finally hit Alaska in 2020 and 2022.

 

*This article is reposted with permission from the Alaska Democratic Party

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One Response to “High Drama in the Legislature!”
  1. Zyxomma says:

    Best of luck, Alaska. I’m sad about your forest fires, and now I understand what’s happening a bit better than before.

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