Pam Leary, director of Treasury Division at the Department of Revenue, gives a presentation for House members on Monday, Feb. 4, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Pam Leary, director of Treasury Division at the Department of Revenue, gives a presentation for House members on Monday, Feb. 4, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

As House falters to organize, committees take new shape

Six people from each party able to participate

Just seven House representatives sat in the House Finance room for a presentation about state debt — the same presentation given to a fully organized and legitimized Senate Finance Committee earlier Monday morning. Four of the normally filled committee seats were empty.

Debt Manager Deven Mitchell treated the room as if it were the normally functioning House Finance Committee, addressing Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, as chair even though no one can chair a committee that doesn’t technically exist. Wilson sponsored the presentation, calling it an “informational meeting.”

“We have to call them informational meetings since we’re not organized,” Wilson said to the Empire after the meeting. “But these are meetings that we would have had in finance at this point, which keeps us on track as far as when the budget comes out, we won’t have to then do these meetings because we will have already gotten the information.”

Wilson said she’s agreed that there will be six people from both sides of the aisle at such future meetings. If they aren’t in attendance at the start of the meeting, then whatever representative is in the audience can participate in their place.

Both the House and Senate’s finance committees will have to be ready to evaluate the governor’s proposed budget for 2020 that will be released by Feb. 13. State debt, and the state’s credit score, will both come into play when determining the state’s operating budget.

[Budget director’s history of cutting with ‘hatchet, not a scalpel’ sparks concern]

Alaska’s current credit score is one of the lowest in the country, but Mitchell said that rating is subject to change pending how much the Legislature approves for residents’ Permanent Fund Divident payouts this year.

The credit score increased from negative to stable in December 2017 after Legislature passed Senate Bill 26, a bill that categorized the Permanent Fund earnings transfer as an unrestricted general fund revenue, rather than a restricted one. It allowed part of the Permanent Fund to be used for government spending.

But as the future of the Permanent Fund Dividend is in question, after Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed amending the constitution to cement the payout, the credit rating might also come into question again.

“Whether those revenues will be available for anything other than a Permanent Fund Dividend remains to be seen,” Mitchell said at the Senate Finance committee meeting. “I’m not going to decide what the PFD is going to be. The last year it’s been smaller than the formula. What that highlights is that it’s available for other purposes. There’s choices to be made.”

He explained at the meeting that if the Legislature decides to draw from the Permanent Fund’s earnings reserve to give residents a bigger payout, that will most likely affect the state’s credit rating negatively as it will reduce the unrestricted general fund. This has the most impact on the secondary market and municipal borrowers.

Senate Finance committee Co-Chair Sen. Natasha Van Imhof, R-Anchorage, said a contributing factor for why Alaska has a better cash position is because lower dividends were paid out to residents the last three years.

“We drew less money from the earnings reserve account, therefore left more money to earn in the bull market,” she said.

In regards to the size of the PFD payout, Senate Finance Committee Co-Chair Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Ketchikan, said, “I can assure you it won’t be zero.”

• Contact reporter Mollie Barnes at or 523-2228.

More in News

LaDawn Druce asks Sen. Jesse Bjorkman a question during a town hall event on Saturday, Feb. 25, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
District unions call for ‘walk-in’ school funding protest

The unions have issued invitations to city councils, the borough assembly, the Board of Education and others

House District 6 race gets 3rd candidate

Alana Greear filed a letter of intent to run on April 5

Kenai City Hall is seen on Feb. 20, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai water treatment plant project moves forward

The city will contract with Anchorage-based HDL Engineering Consultants for design and engineering of a new water treatment plant pumphouse

Students of Soldotna High School stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
SoHi students walk out for school funding

The protest was in response to the veto of an education bill that would have increased school funding

The Kenai Courthouse as seen on Monday, July 3, 2023, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Clam Gulch resident convicted of 60 counts for sexual abuse of a minor

The conviction came at the end of a three-week trial at the Kenai Courthouse

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meets in Seward, Alaska, on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (screenshot)
Borough awards contract for replacement of Seward High School track

The project is part of a bond package that funds major deferred maintenance projects at 10 borough schools

Kenai Peninsula Education Association President LaDawn Druce, left, and committee Chair Jason Tauriainen, right, participate in the first meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s Four Day School Week Ad Hoc Committee on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
4-day school week committee talks purpose of potential change, possible calendar

The change could help curb costs on things like substitutes, according to district estimates

A studded tire is attached to a very cool car in the parking lot of the Peninsula Clarion in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, April 15, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Studded tire removal deadline extended

A 15-day extension was issued via emergency order for communities above the 60 degrees latitude line

A sign for Peninsula Community Health Services stands outside their facility in Soldotna, Alaska, on Monday, April 15, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
PCHS to pursue Nikiski expansion, moves to meet other community needs

PCHS is a private, nonprofit organization that provides access to health care to anyone in the community

Most Read