The Alaska House passed a bill Wednesday afternoon that seeks to reverse 75% of the $444 million in budget vetoes announced by Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s last month.
House Bill 2001, approved 21-10, 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, prekindergarten and early education programs, the Ocean Ranger program, community assistance grants, Alaska Legal Services, the Village Public Safety Officer program and others.
The vetoes that remain include a $20 million cut to the university system, a $50 million cut to the school bond debt reimbursement program and a number of others.
House Bill 2001 came with its own set of complications, with the original form including a permanent fund dividend, only to have the annual payout stripped from the legislation before going to the floor for a vote. Due of the absence of a dividend provision, members of the House Republican Minority introduced an amendment that would include a $3,000 dividend in the bill. The amendment was heavily debated for more than half an hour before being ultimately rejected in a 20-11 vote.
In debating the funding level of the yet to be approve dividend in addition to the bill as a whole, members of the House Republican Minority cited statute in their urging of other legislators to fund a $3,000 dividend in accordance with a 1982 law.
Many expressed frustration that the dividend was not part of the bill in debate Wednesday, as they said they were led to believe it would be.
“Our caucus’ House Finance team worked diligently to bring compromise options to the table, to find some wiggle room that would ease Alaskans’ concerns, and still deliver on our obligation to authorize the permanent fund dividend,” added Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla. “Our efforts to find common ground continue to be cast aside.”
Members of the House Majority Coalition rebutted the concerns with references to testimony heard from members of the public following the release of the governor’s budget vetoes, many of them expressed concern over state services that are set to be slashed should the vetoes stand.
Fairbanks Democratic Rep. Adam Wool expressed fear that a cut of such a magnitude to the university system would result in a mass exodus of researchers, teachers and students.
“We don’t want to lose our best and brightest and the university helps in a lot of ways,” he said.
Wool, citing precedence, defended a smaller dividend in an effort to protect services and maintain the permanent fund’s longevity.
“In the past, we have paid less than a full PFD and life went on. A lot of us voted for a sub-full PFD and we keep getting reelected so I think there are some people who support this concept,” Wool said in a floor speech Wednesday afternoon.
According to statistics provided by the House Finance Committee, during the committee’s public testimony tour last week, combining in-person, written and testimony by phone, a total of 2,399 Alaska residents provided comment. Of those, 2,072 supported a smaller dividend in order to maintain state services, 274 testified against the bill and 53 testifiers did not take a position either way.
The House Finance Committee is set to pick up a new bill at 9 a.m. this morning in continued discussions surround this year’s dividend amount. HB 2003, introduced by the House Rules Committee, would set the amount at approximately $1,600.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMPolitics.