Meeting in Juneau, state legislators continued work last week on budget bills and legislation related to the Permanent Fund Dividend.
They also grappled with budget problems created by a “sweep” of state reserve funds into a protected savings account, the Constitutional Budget Reserve, or CBR, that occurred when the House Republican Minority refused to provide votes to reverse the sweep and restore the funds.
Once in the CBR money cannot be taken out without a three-quarters vote of the Legislature.
Money now swept into the CBR totals about $2 billion, said officials of the Office of Management of the Budget, and includes Power Cost Equalization, or PCE, a fund that helps rural Alaskans deal with high energy costs. Among other funds “swept” is an emergency vaccine fund set up to guard against disease outbreaks.
Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, said the timing of elimination of the vaccine fund is unfortunate given the announcement of the first confirmed case of measles in the state due to lack of vaccination.
Bishop also said state workforce training funds, which are funded partly by wage and salary employees, are swept into the CBR.
State officials are proposing to replace some of lost funding with a general fund appropriation for the current Fiscal 2020 but due to a budget technicality $21 million set aside for vaccines cannot be retrieved.
The sweep action also wiped out a fund established for scholarships for Alaskans attending the University of Alaska, which has resulting in about 12,000 young Alaskans being notified that scholarship aid they expected will not be forthcoming.
Republican legislators, mostly the Mat-Su delegation, gave up on their rump special session meeting at Wasilla and joined other legislators meeting in Juneau, the state capital.
Although he had proposed the Wasilla special session Gov. Mike Dunleavy supported the consolidation of legislators in Juneau in the spirit of compromise, hoping this would bring lawmakers together in solving budget problems and the PFD.
While split in two locations legislators also failed to get the 45 votes need to override the governor’s veto of over $400 million in state funds for the FY 2020 budget.
House Republicans also blocked approval of a draw on the Constitutional Budget Reserve to fund the state capital budget, which provides matching funds for federal construction dollars along with other funds, such as new anti-crime bills.
In a new bill introduced in the Senate last week the governor proposed a stop-gap funding plan to solve some of the problems created by the sweep.
“This budget includes funding for the comprehensive criminal justice reform package, state match to leverage over $915 million in federal transportation funds, and various projects and programs that will provide services to Alaskans,” Dunleavy said in a transmittal letter sent with the new bill, Senate Bill 2002.
The state House had earlier introduced its own bill to resolve budget issues, which also restored money for all of Dunleavy’s vetoes as well as including items for the capital budget.
Dunleavy’s budget bill introduced in the Senate leaves the vetoes intact.