Sen. John Coghill was getting impatient.
The North Pole Republican stood on the Senate floor Thursday morning and said he wanted the Senate to take another vote on a bill that would give Alaskans a $3,000 Alaska Permanent Fund dividend. If that vote failed, according to the Alaska Legislature’s rules, the bill would be permanently shelved.
With just 15 senators in attendance, there wouldn’t be enough votes in favor of the bill (Senate Bill 1002), and Coghill said in an interview Thursday that he didn’t think there would even be enough votes to agree to re-vote on the bill. But his motion was more about sending a message, he said.
“My bold move was just to kind of kick us in the shins and say, ‘We’ve got to get going, guys,’” Coghill said.
The senators agreed to adjourn without voting on the bill again, but Coghill said he thought the message was received that with just over a week left in special session, lawmakers need to start legislating with urgency. Both the Senate Majority and Senate Minority met following the floor session, and Coghill said he felt that people are more on board with pursuing a budget first before figuring out the dividend.
“At least now, it looks like we have some agreement to move forward and get an operating budget so that it can actually be negotiated with the House, printed, put on the table and moved up to the governor before early next week,” Coghill said.
Senators even entertained the thought of having a “call” of the Senate where law enforcement would have to track down absent senators and bring them to the floor. They ultimately voted against doing that. Sens. Tom Begich and Mike Shower were excused for Thursday’s floor session. Sens. Elvi Gray-Jackson, Natasha von Imhof and Bill Wielechowski were also absent. Gray-Jackson and Wielechowski voted earlier this week for a $3,000 PFD, and Shower is also in favor of a full dividend.
Some senators were unhappy with the way Coghill introduced his motion, with five of the 20 senators not on the floor. Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, was particularly agitated as she spoke on the floor.
“We’re basically disenfranchising voters, because thousands and thousands and thousands of Alaskans are not represented here today,” Reinbold said.
The Senate has been gridlocked on the issue of the PFD, but most other topics have been agreed upon in special session. The Legislature passed House Bill 49, which repeals most of the criminal justice reform legislation SB 91. The conference committee (a group of legislators from the House and Senate) has all but finished an operating budget as well.
Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, said the Senate has been trying to fit the PFD in the budget, but it might be time to pass the budget and deal with the PFD later.
“The operating budget is otherwise ready to go,” Kiehl said in an interview. “For three weeks, nobody’s gotten anywhere keeping them tied together. I think it’s time to split them.”
If the Legislature can’t pass a budget by the end of the state’s fiscal year (June 30), the government will shut down the following day. Gov. Mike Dunleavy has pledged to veto a bill that does not guarantee a full $3,000 PFD.
Pursuing the budget before the PFD would put the Senate on the same page as the House. Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon said this week that members of the House Majority want to pass a budget before dealing with the PFD.
Speaking to reporters after Thursday’s floor session, Senate President Cathy Giessel said many in the Senate are beginning to feel that same way as the clock continues to tick.
“We need to get the operating budget moving,” Giessel said. “Right now we have an issue that is standing in the way of that.”
The Senate will hold another floor session at 11 a.m. Friday, where the senators might again attempt to vote on the PFD amount. Reinbold said on the floor that she expects all 20 senators to be in attendance next Tuesday.
The special session ends June 14 (next Friday), so tabling the PFD for now could lead to another special session, Kiehl said. Lawmakers want to make sure they get it right, he said.
“There is not one single vote in the Senate for a zero PFD,” Kiehl said. “Everybody wants to pay a PFD. We’re arguing about how much and how. If it takes another special (session) to do it, we’ll have to do it.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.