With the state legislature gridlocked over the budget and the PFD, what is the path forward? An approach the Dunleavy Administration could take would be to split the sessions.
What exactly do I mean by this?
Currently, the Alaska Legislature has two items left on the special session call, the budget and the PFD. As it presently stands there seems to be agreement on the operating budget, but there is still debate on the amount of this year’s dividend payment.
If the administration does not get a budget passed by the first of July, then state government shuts down. This is the worst possible outcome for the state, the people, and for both the legislature and administration. To prevent this from happening, the governor and his team should negotiate with the leadership in both houses to have the budget passed over to him as soon as possible. That way he can examine the budget, make the vetoes he wishes to make, and then the legislature will have the time to examine what he has vetoed and address it.
The governor should then call a second special session to have the legislature figure out what the size of this years dividend is going to be. With the budget off the table, it will create a situation where the threat of a shutdown is not facing the legislature, and it will be a less stressful environment to debate the future of the dividend. The present course that is being taken with the current special session is one that is not going to lead to success when you examine the dynamics in the capitol. You have the House Majority Coalition leadership that has made it clear that a $3,000 amount will not pass their body. Then there is the Senate Majority leadership, which has indicated that there are divisions in the caucus on the amount to be paid out and they are unsure if the votes are there. The other factor in the mix is that the House Minority Caucus and the Senate Minority Caucus, each of which broadly supports the $3,000 amount, do not have the votes to get it through. Add to that the fact that with a government shutdown looming, the administration has no plan of how to deal with such a scenario.
The state has never had a shutdown of government services in the 60 years that Alaska has been in the union. If the state were to have one now, it would cause economic problems as well as disruption for a wide range of services. With the administration having no plan to deal with such a problem and the entrenchment unyielding in the legislature, it is better to stay clear of it altogether. The time for the administration to come up with a compromise is running out. On the 14th of June the special session will end, and if there is no operating budget, then the state government inches one step closer to uncharted waters.