By Erin McGroarty
The Alaska House failed, for a second time, to pass a $162 million capital budget Monday morning with members of the House Finance committee meeting later that afternoon to pick up issues still remaining within the operating budget, a large part of which Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed last month.
The House passed the capital budget itself with a vote of 29-7, but the vote to fund the legislation from the Constitutional Budget Reserve, which requires support from three-quarters of the body, failed by a single vote. The outcome was similar to Sunday's outcome when the House passed the bill 25-8, but failed to gain the votes to actually fund the bill.
The Senate passed the capital budget and the subsequent budget reserve vote 19-0 Saturday.
Failure to approve a capital budget puts at risk an estimated $900 million in federal matching dollars.
Thirty-six members of the House were present Monday morning. Nikiski Republican Rep. Ben Carpenter, Big Lake Republican Rep. Mark Neuman, Sutton Republican Rep. George Rauscher and Healy Republican Rep. Dave Talerico were absent excused from Monday morning's vote. All four are members of the House Republican Minority.
Of those who were present, Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, was the only Fairbanks-area representative to vote against the bill.
Members of the House spoke for more than half an hour Monday morning, some speaking against the bill and some encouraging support.
A provision within the bill, the "reverse sweep," would have restored several subaccounts that were emptied into the budget reserve at the beginning of the fiscal year. They include the Alaska Higher Education Investment Fund that was set to bankroll thousands of scholarships and education grants this fall as well as the Power Cost Equalization program, which works to mitigate higher energy costs in Alaska's rural communities.
After the budget reserve vote failed, the House stood in recess only to later adjourn after House Finance Committee and caucus leadership meetings.
There is one more chance for a re-vote on the bill. With support of 21 members, the House could rescind Monday morning's action and vote once again on the bill. It would take the changing of one of the previous "no" votes or the appearance and support of the one of the four absent excused members to pass the budget reserve draw.
The House is scheduled to convene a floor session to take up the legislation for debate once more Tuesday morning at 10:30.
The House Finance Committee passed a committee substitute for House bill 2001 during its meeting Monday afternoon. The bill outlines this year's Alaska Permanent Fund dividend amount and restores $278 million of the $444 million vetoed by Dunleavy. This includes unrestricted general funds, designated general funds, other funding and federal match dollars.
The bill would restore $110 million in funding for the University of Alaska — Dunleavy vetoed $130 million — and put back funding to areas of the budget such as Medicaid funding, the Senior Benefits Payment Program and adult dental programs, Alaska State Council on the Arts, public broadcasting, pre-kindergarten and early education programs.
The vetoes that remain include $50 million in school bond debt reimbursement.
The bill would also set the amount of this year's dividend at $1,600. If all other provisions in the bill pass, the Legislature would be looking at a budget surplus, which would then be used to fund about $1,300 of the dividend. The remaining $300 for each dividend would be funded through a draw from the Statutory Budget Reserve, different from the Constitutional Budget Reserve.
According to Finance Co-Chair Neal Foster, D-Nome, the bill does not include aspects of the capital budget that had originally been placed into the bill, leaving capital budget provisions, and the remaining $300 for each dividend conditional on the passage of a reverse sweep.
The bill was approved and passed along to the full House in a 7-3 vote with House Republican Minority members Reps. Kelly Merrick, R-Homer; Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla; and Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla, voting against the bill.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.