WASILLA — Exactly 37 years to the date of the first payout of the Permanent Fund Dividend, Gov. Mike Dunleavy held a press conference at Wasilla Middle School where he’s called elected officials to special session starting on July 8 to come to an agreement on the PFD amount for this year. Accompanied by Deputy Chief of Staff Jeremy Price, Representatives George Rauscher and David Eastman, Mat-Su Borough Manager John Moosey and Assemblyman Jim Sykes and Wasilla Mayor Bert Cottle, Dunleavy answered questions about some of the reasoning behind his proclamation calling the legislature to a special session. A variety of scenarios could thwart the session Dunleavy has called the legislature to for the purposes of voting on an amount for this year’s PFD.
“We’re hoping that with a focus on July 8 here in the Valley that we can get the issue of the PFD dealt with and then we can move on and start to work together in building Alaska together,” Dunleavy said.
Dunleavy said that he hoped to avoid a government shutdown that would take effect July 1 and not to hand out any pink slips. Dunleavy was in Utquiagvik when the legislature gaveled out sine die on Wednesday. Dunleavy said he was determined to get a full PFD, and that a change of venue for the meeting of the legislature may produce the outcome he desires.
“Were bringing the specific special session to the Valley. Again, a change of venue, hopefully we’ll get a change of outcomes and it allows upwards of 500,000-plus Alaskans to be able to come to this location because it’s centrally located in an attempt to have discussions with legislators involving this very important issue,” Dunleavy said.
The 40 Representatives and 20 Senators sent to Juneau this year convened for 150 days, passing their 90-day requirement, 120-day maximum and convening for a special session in Juneau that ended on Wednesday with the passage of the budget. Dunleavy was excited to hold the first ever meeting of the legislature in the Mat-Su Valley. Dunleavy did not mention logistics of who would meet where, what the session would cost and how the session would be broadcast, but left that up to other cabinet members.
“I don’t agree with the assessment that this is not a good place to have a special session. I think it’s suitable,” Dunleavy said.
The only answer given to the estimated costs of holding the special session at WMS is that there would be a nominal janitorial fee. Price said that MSBSD has been willing to offer up WMS and WHS at no cost. Dunleavy said that he was still analyzing the operating budget offered up by the legislature, and he would have a statement to deliver shortly. Dunleavy believes that the PFD has been a sticking issue during budget discussions, and that once the PFD is agreed upon, the capitol budget would be taken care of expediently.
Eastman followed Dunleavy by repeating the message Dunleavy ran for office on and that has been repeated at his stops around the state to discuss the budget with Alaskans. Eastman implored the legislature to, “follow the law.” Eastman said that the members of the legislature did not use their time wisely during the 150 days of session so far in 2019.
“We didn’t do what we’re supposed to do, and so that’s I think, why we’re here, why I’m glad the governor has given the proclamation he has, and I’m just grateful,” Eastman said.
Rauscher repeated what Dunleavy and Eastman had before him, that he would like the legislature to, “follow the law,” and return to the original payout. Rauscher mentioned his HB 2 to move the entirety of the legislature to the Legislative Information Office in Anchorage. The bill was referred to the House Community and Regional Affairs Committee on February 20. Rauscher welcomed his 59 fellow legislators to the Valley and said that the Valley delegation felt honored to have the session in their home districts. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard represents the city of Wasilla in the House and David Wilson serves Wasilla in the Senate. Answering questions about legislator safety at WMS, Dunleavy noted that all of the assembled media were able to get to WMS on safe roads and that ample security would be present. Dunleavy also mentioned the hotels and restaurants accessible in Wasilla, and that Wasilla High was also offered up for the legislature to use if necessary. Dunleavy continued to promote that Wasilla Middle is centrally located to within five hours of drive time for over 500,000 Alaskans, and said that he felt the ability for residents to have personal interactions with elected officials would aid in the process of deciding on a PFD amount.
Cottle attended and was insistent that the 649 WMS students have remained safe under his watch, and that legislators should expect that same safety. Press Secretary Matt Shuckerow said if it was good enough for the kids, it was good enough for the legislators. Deputy Chief of Staff Jeremy Price fielded many of the logistical questions about audio equipment, parking, and safety, but Shuckerow said that ultimately many of the final details for the session will be made by the Legislative Affairs office.
“This location is well suited to do anything that we need to, so they’ll be bringing the gear from Juneau that we need,” Price said.
Price noted that the chairs would fit adults and Eastman pointed out that Wasilla has more fast food restaurants than Juneau. Price led the media on a tour of Wasilla Middle, pointing out the new speaker system in the main gym that will likely be used for session. Wasilla Middle also has a small gym and cafeteria that could be suitable for large gatherings of legislators, but many details remain undetermined. Wasilla Middle classrooms come complete with promethean boards, should they be used for legislative offices.
Dunleavy noted the increase of students in the Mat-Su Valley of 200 students. The MSBSD attendance actually dropped in 2019 by 36 students. MSBSD had seen increases in the previous three years of 709 students, 343 students and 159 students in 2016, 2017 and 2018 respectively.