Midnight Wednesday is quickly approaching, but things are in gridlock. The 120-day legislative session clock is about to expire, and the House and Senate have no agreement on the budget. I know it is frustrating for you to read this, and I’m guessing you cringe when you hear the news reports. I am not at all happy about it either. If it were up to me, we would be done – but of course it is not as there are 60 legislators.

What’s Next?

It’s doubtful there will be the votes to extend the session by ten days which is permitted under the constitution. It is more likely that the governor will call the legislature into a special session. That’s when another clock begins to tick. The government shut-down clock. If agreement isn’t reached to pass a balanced budget before the new fiscal year begins on July 1, only critical operations will continue (troopers, correctional officers, etc.) until one is.

Oh, the Rift

What’s the rift? In two words (well, a word and an acronym): the PFD. The Senate Majority wants a small PFD and ongoing access to the PFD for government spending without a spending cap. The House Majority wants a moderate PFD and a fiscal plan set in motion which includes a spending cap and settling the PFD once and for all.

The Senate Majority promised House leadership, as well as told the press, that it would not cook up a “turducken” by stuffing the capital budget into the operating budget. When it didn’t get the House to agree to its lower PFD, however, the Finance chefs headed to the kitchen and did it anyway. The House is tired of what they view as unfair play by the Senate, the seventh year to boot. Normally the operating budget begins in the House and is passed over to the Senate, while the capital budget begins in the Senate and passes over to the House. This year, however, the Senate never passed the capital budget to the House. The “turducken” bill doesn’t give the House a chance to vet and amend the capital budget as they see fit.

The “turducken” bill is expected to be taken up today in the Senate and will be sent to the House for an up/down vote, a take it or leave it vote. This approach does not allow the House the ability to make any changes to the capital budget. I objected to and voted against the adoption of the “turducken” committee substitute along with my Senate Minority members as it removes the check and balance of the House to the Senate as intended in the constitution. All Senate Majority members voted to adopt the “turducken” version, so it is the bill currently before the Senate.

Wish They Knew It Really Is All About the Children

Lots of bills are moving but probably the most significant bill last week in the Senate was the education bill SB52. I proposed amendment after amendment to direct school funds to improving student outcomes by directing the dollars specifically to teachers and classroom instruction, but despite the few brave souls (including both minority and majority members) who stood with me, the amendments failed.

Even though proficiency rates in all grades and all subjects hover around only 30% statewide, too many senators turned a blind eye to a golden opportunity. To address the funding but not address the system failure is an abdication of legislative constitutional duty according to the 2007 Moore v. State of Alaska ruling.

Anyone who just cares about the dollars and not the system, cares more about the overall adults in the district system than the students and the teachers tasked to help them. I’ve got news for anyone reading this: I’m all about the students and am not a lackey for the NEA. Teachers and families, I want you to know that I fought for you. Although I am heartsick there weren’t the votes to take the bull by the horns for the sake of our most precious resource, our children, I’m not giving up – and this song keeps running through my head: “I get knocked down, but I get up again. You’re never gonna keep me down.”

The views expressed here are those of the author.

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OPINION: Rift in Alaska Legislature signals likelihood of a special session

Shelley Hughes
Shelley Hughes serves as an Alaska state senator from Palmer.