WASILLA — Following a brief meeting of the 10 legislators who convened in Wasilla Wednesday, the legislative session in Wasilla has come to a close.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced an amendment to his proclamation, calling all 60 legislators to the state capitol in Juneau and adding the capital budget to the agenda.
“Timelines compel us to find a solution sooner rather than later. Concluding work on the state infrastructure budget and the PFD brings the legislature one step closer to finishing the work of the people,” Dunleavy said in the proclamation. “In my daily discussions with legislators — those both in Wasilla and in Juneau — many have acknowledged that the real progress needs to be made on the capital budget and that work cannot be completed until the legislature is meeting in one location… With sensitivity to the time that remains to capture federal funds, the legislature will be able to quickly consider the capital budget, the PFD, and conclude this work for the people of Alaska before the end of July.”
Dunleavy’s proclamation, issued at noon on Wednesday, states that he will introduce a capital budget that contains matching funds for federal transportation programs, state matching funds for village safe water projects, and funding for the new crime legislation HB 49. Many legislators were engaged in conversations over the weekend, working on drafting the letter to Dunleavy that was dated on Saturday.
“We’ve asked him to expand the call to include the capital budget, reverse sweep and issues that are time sensitive. So that $1 billion in the federal match, now we did a previous letter that he said was contingent on those in Juneau showing up, so it might look similar but it’s different,” Sen. Mia Costello said. “We drafted the letter that was a big undertaking because it represents all of us. It went through several drafts and everybody’s happy with it.”
Costello spoke briefly to the 20 people in the crowd and her colleagues in attendance, Senators Shelley Hughes, Lora Reinbold, Mike Shower, and David Wilson and Representatives David Eastman, DeLena Johnson, Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, Cathy Tilton and Sarah Vance. Following Costello’s brief remarks that those in Wasilla did not have a quorum and could not conduct business, Johnson made a statement to thank the city of Wasilla. The session in Wasilla concluded prior to Dunleavy’s proclamation amendment, but many legislators in the room were aware of the impending change of the call.
“Everyone of the people here have worked to make this a professional, truly transparent session that the constitutional call that was before us. I really was so proud standing with colleagues I have in this room,” Johnson said. “I wanted to just say how pleased and how proud I am that this has been taking place here and to be taking part in it and have all of you that have been here to help us facilitate that. It’s been a wonderful thing to have hometown hospitality.”
Just one week after protesters lined the walkways with signs, shouting and singing their opinions to passing legislators and spectators, the first ever meeting of the Alaska Legislature in the Mat-Su Valley has ended.
“I would be willing to go to any community in Alaska, whether it’s Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, any community. And if the governor wanted to change his call to change the location, I’m willing to go there because I’m going to follow the law,” Hughes said.
Hughes was disappointed that her colleagues meeting in Juneau did not offer the same flexibility, and noted the importance of completing the state’s work in a timely manner. However, Hughes noted that the members of the legislature have been involved in conversations regardless of where they are physically located.
“It really doesn’t matter where people are because those are progressing and they are going at a good pace and we really don’t need everyone under one roof and until everything’s come together and we’re ready for the final vote,” Hughes said. “It’s no surprise that there are very intense deliberations. That’s to be expected, so those items are coming to a head and we have to sort them out and the location at this point is irrelevant because those conversations are happening anyway.”
Hughes noted that with a dip in oil prices around 2015, the two most polarizing and poignant topics on the minds of Alaskans has been the size and scope of the budget and the Permanent Fund Dividend. Over the weekend, Hughes spent three hours on the phone with Shower. Shower had flown to Korea for work, but spoke with Hughes, Costello, Reinbold, Wilson, and spoke on a radio show.
“Ain’t anything stopping me when I’m in another country,” Shower said.
Sen. David Wilson was not among those drafting the letter that was signed by Costello and Rep. Lance Pruitt (R — Anchorage). Wilson spent the weekend fishing with family, but was intent on finding a solution to federal matching funds.
“I’m trying to do everything I can do to keep it together because that’s federal dollars that I don’t want to be responsible for. I have [Knik-Goose Bay Road] in my area. I have major road projects that have been sort of life and safety hazards that I can’t see funding go away in,” Wilson said.
Johnson was happy to see the House Finance hearing in Wasilla on Monday, and noted that the people of Wasilla were just getting used to having legislators in their city. While preparing to leave Wasilla and head back to the state capitol in Juneau for the remainder of the second special session, Costello was beaming with pride in how well she felt the Wasilla special session went.
“I think it’s really important that Alaskans participate in the legislative process and what you saw was during session, we were interacting with individuals. I have met with more people in this time period that we’ve been here than I have in any full legislative session,” said Costello. “I love the Valley. have really been so impressed by the hospitality and the welcoming of the community volunteers that put this on for us.”