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

Children receive free face-painting during the Kenai River Festival on Friday, June 9, 2023, at Soldotna Creek Park in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai River Festival fills park with education, music, vendors

The Kenai River Festival is the biggest event the Kenai Watershed Forum puts on each year

A freshly stocked rainbow trout swims in Johnson Lake during Salmon Celebration on Wednesday, May 10, 2023, at Johnson Lake in Kasilof, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Lake fishing still ‘excellent’

Northern Kenai Fishing report

Kenai City Manager Terry Eubank (left) and Kenai Controller Lana Metcalf (right) present budget information during a city council work session on Saturday, April 29, 2023, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai adopts budget, staff recruitment strategies

The city expects there to be a general fund surplus of about $436,000 in fiscal year 2025

A special weather statement has been issued for the Kenai Peninsula and surrounding areas. (Screenshot via National Weather Service)
‘Unseasonably strong storm’ forecast for this weekend

Saturday is set to be busy around the central peninsula, with a variety of events scheduled

Photo provided by United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development
Chugachmiut Board Vice Chair Larry Evanoff from Chenega, Chair Fran Norman from Port Graham, and Director Arne Hatch from Qutekcak break ground for the Chugachmiut Regional Health Center in Seward, June 3. The occasion marked the start of construction of the $20 million facility. The 15,475-square-foot tribally owned and operated health clinic will serve as a regional hub providing medical, dental and behavioral health services for Alaskans in seven tribal communities.
Ground broken for new regional health center in Seward

The tribally owned and operated facility will serve as a regional hub providing medical, dental and behavioral health care

The Kasilof River is seen from the Kasilof River Recreation Area, July 30, 2019, in Kasilof, Alaska. (Photo by Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion)
Kasilof River personal use gillnet fishery closed

It’s the Kenai River optimal escapement goal, not a Kasilof River escapement goal, that is cited by the announcement as triggering the close

The Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center is seen on Wednesday, May 5, 2021, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai cuts ties with out-of-state marketing firm

Council members expressed skepticism about the firm’s performance

A firefighter from Cooper Landing Emergency Services refills a water tanker at the banks of the Kenai River in Cooper Landing, Alaska on Aug. 30, 2019. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)
Cooper Landing voters to consider emergency service area for region

The community is currently served by Cooper Landing Emergency Services

Hundreds gather for the first week of the Levitt AMP Soldotna Music Series on Wednesday, June 7, 2023, at Soldotna Creek Park in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna music series kicks off with crowds, colors and sunshine

A color run took off ahead of performances by Blackwater Railroad Company and BenJammin The Jammin Band

Most Read