JUNEAU, Alaska — The Alaska Legislature remains on pace for a statewide government shutdown as lawmakers renew discussions they hope will bridge the gap between the House and Senate.
Gov. Bill Walker said he is confident the Legislature can avert an economically catastrophic shutdown July 1.
Officials’ top priority during the special session is the state operating budget.
“At this point, I must focus solely on one issue and one issue alone, and that is the operating budget so we do not have a shutdown in this state,” said Walker, who sets the agenda for the session.
Walker said he has not changed his mind about the need for new revenue to erase a $2.7 billion annual deficit, but the state has enough savings to cover that deficit for one year without significant consequences.
The Senate Majority agrees with Walker’s approach, while the House Majority appears to be standing firm in its requests for a plan that addresses both Alaska’s long-term deficit and the government shutdown, the Juneau Empire reported (http://bit.ly/2tjEfiu ).
“Let’s focus on the people of Alaska instead of trying to get other items onto the agenda that are not on the agenda,” said Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel and co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. “Let’s close this down and let’s get the people’s business done.”
The House Majority’s plan, passed through the House months ago, includes new taxes that have not been endorsed by the Senate. While both the House and Senate favor diverting some money from the earnings of the Alaska Permanent Fund and reducing Permanent Fund Dividends in the process, the House is asking for more, including more money from the oil industry and some kind of progressive tax to balance the regressive elements of a dividend cut.
“We said from the very beginning that we were not going to be taking the only source of new revenue being a reduction in PFDs. That became a crux of the problem,” said Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer and co-chairman of the House Finance Committee.
Gov. Bill Walker called both the House and Senate into special session on Friday, but after brief floor sessions, each body adjourned.