The budget process in the Alaska Legislature is a wild time. The House Finance Committee develops a budget based on finance subcommittee input as well as input from the governor’s budget and the various departments. The budget then goes to the House floor where it is offered for amendments. Then the budget is sent to the Senate Finance Committee which repeats the process and makes changes based on the testimony they receive.
This year, the changes were significant. The result was huge increases to the budget due to the actions of the Senate Finance Committee who rolled the capital budget, the supplemental budget, and all federal infrastructure funding received, into the operating budget. That budget then came back to the House for a concurrence vote.
Concurrence is an up or down vote; the House either concurs with the Senate’s changes or we don’t. I campaigned and voted for concurrence. Others did not. If concurrence had passed, the budget would have gone to the governor for his vetoes. If concurrence failed, then the budget would go to a whirlwind Conference Committee made up of six people chosen by the Speaker of the House and the Senate President. This Conference Committee is a big reason why our budgets and spending have been out of control in the past two decades.
I completely agree with not voting for a budget that includes money for abortion. But I am pragmatic enough to understand returning a budget to the very people who stripped out the anti-abortion amendment, and expecting them to put it back in, is a fool’s errand.
As you know by now, the concurrence vote failed.
This is why we should have concurred with the Senate’s hugely bloated budget:
— It included a full statutory PFD as well as the energy relief payment created by the House, which would have meant $5,500 into the pockets of every Alaskan man, woman and child. Contrary to what you may have heard from special interests, lobbyists, and some progressive leftist Representatives, we could have easily afforded the large PFD. This money would have been life changing for many struggling Alaskans who face looming financial difficulties due to the lockdowns, the spike in inflation, and the cost of living.
— It would have also put well over $500 million into the Mat-Su local economy. Can you imagine the economic boom for small businesses that are struggling post-lockdowns? Consider the fact that private money infused into the economy, returns through the economy multiple times (some say as many as 9x); this $5,500 payment would have generated an unprecedented economic boom in the Mat-Su and in Alaska.
— The full statutory PFD was a product of, and placed into the budget because of an amendment and vote (on the floor) of the full Senate. We knew the Conference Committee would be populated by senators and representatives who are anti-PFD – and everyone knew it would come back minus a full statutory PFD. And it did.
This huge budget would have given the governor a target rich environment for line-item vetoes.
Even though the anti-abortion “Hyde Amendment” has been proven unconstitutional in court, the House passed this language during our floor debate. This amendment removes money from the Alaska Dept. of Health & Social Services which would be used to fund abortions. For whatever reason, the Senate finance committee removed this highly controversial amendment from their budget. My thinking, when I voted to concur, was that I did not want to put the budget back into the same hands of those who removed that amendment. Since the Senate leadership typically names the two finance co-chairs to the Conference Committee, sending the budget back to them (by not concurring) was not going to result in the Hyde Amendment language being restored. Voting for a budget with a full PFD was more important than gambling on the Senate co-chairs restoring “Hyde” to the budget.
This huge budget would have given the governor a target rich environment for line-item vetoes. While the operating budget was only a 2% increase, the capital budget was (and many say still is) filled with fluff, which added greatly to the size and scope of our government. It did, however, contain many beneficial capital projects and critical repair or replacement infrastructure projects that have been non-existent in recent years. Your House Republicans (including the Valley representatives who voted against concurrence) were in direct contact with the governor and his staff, and were assured that he would involve us in making vetoes to bring this budget under control. We had already identified more than a billion dollars in vetoes that could be made – but we needed concurrence.
The budget was a conservative legislator’s nightmare. The capital projects were huge and included many things not necessary for government or which had zero return on investment.
A non-concurrence budget vote has not been seen since 1982. To me, it was time to shift the paradigm. Time to take the budget out of the hands of six people (four of whom were involved in putting it together in the first place) and put it in the hands of all legislators. Once there, we could work with the governor to repair the monster created by the Senate, fund programs that needed funding, pay Alaskans a full statutory PFD, and cut the fluff.
Several House Representatives, however, decided to stand on their principles and voted “No” on concurrence. Their no votes cost every single person in Alaska half of their full statutory PFD. And, as usual, the Mat-Su received extra “attention” from the conference committee (where we had no representation) and seven Mat-Su Trooper positions were deleted. I completely agree with not voting for a budget that includes money for abortion. But I am pragmatic enough to understand returning a budget to the very people who stripped out the anti-abortion amendment, and expecting them to put it back in, is a fool’s errand.
ALASKA WATCHMAN DIRECT TO YOUR INBOX
I was also very concerned that the Mat-Su had zero representation on the conference committee. In the past this has resulted in targeted cuts to money designated for the second most populous area in the state. Again, I was correct. The best outcome for the Mat-Su would have come from concurrence.
The budget was a conservative legislator’s nightmare. The capital projects were huge and included many things not necessary for government or which had zero return on investment. I spent a great amount of time talking with the governor before I ever considered concurring with this budget and am convinced, he (we) could have cut it down to a size that a conservative could vote for. I was not, however, convinced the Conference Committee had any interest in reducing anything.
Yet they DID reduce the size… but only by cutting your PFD and energy relief payment in half and directly attacking the Mat-Su via the public safety reduction. So no, I do not believe a no vote on concurrence was in the best interests of the Mat-Su, District 8, or indeed, all Alaskans. It was a mistake of epic proportions, and we will feel it this winter.
The views expressed here are those of the author.