The House passed two amendments Wednesday morning, one to remove language concerning the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend from House Bill 2001 and another to add $5 million toward the Alaska Marine Highway System.
With 11 legislators excused, 29 members of the House met to debate two amendments to the funding bill that has been working its way through the Legislature for the past two weeks.
In an attempt to “bifurcate” the PFD from the capital funding, Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome, introduced an amendment removing the language concerning the dividend from the bill. Despite some objection from Republican minority members including Reps. David Eastman, R-Wasilla, and Sara Vance, R-Homer, the amendment was passed 19-10.
Dissenting lawmakers accused supporters of the amendment of “kicking the can down the road,” in the words of Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla. Those lawmakers said that the special session was meant to debate the PFD and that not doing so was violating the terms of the session.
Eastman also objected on the grounds that this was the first time he had heard this legislation read out across the floor, a necessary procedure for consideration of a law. The constitution says that a bill must be read out three separate times on three separate days in order to be legitimately considered.
Other legislators contended that because the bill’s language was identical to previous bills read out across the floor, that condition had been fufilled and the bill had already gone through due process.
An amendment only requires a simple majority of legislators present, lowering the threshold for passage significantly.
A second amendment, sponsored by Reps. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, and Louis Stutes, R-Kodiak, was introduced adding $5 million to the AMHS.
Several representatives from Southeast spoke in favor of the amendment saying that communities of coastal Alaska depended on the ferry system for their livlihood.
Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, said that the marine highway was the same as any other highway system in the state and that cutting service to coastal communities for months at a time, which Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget would do, would be akin to not plowing large stretches of highway elsewherer in the state during winter.
Again, Eastman objected to amendment saying that this amendment basically asks his constituents, “Would you be willing to give $68 dollars of your dividend to support these coastal communities?” Eastman said he thought the answer would be “no.” Dividend money is better spent by individuals deciding for themselves how to spend it, Eastman said, rather than the legislature making that decision for them.
In response, Stutes replied in closing remarks that “just because the ferry doesn’t land in your district,” doesn’t mean your community doesn’t get the economic benefits the ferry system provides.
Despite objections from Republican minority members, the funding amendment for the ferry system was added 22-7.
Later in the day the House reconvened and Republican minority members introduced their own amendment that would add a full $3,000 PFD.
The amendment’s sponsor Vance said that a full PFD was dictated by the state constitution and that it was one of the largest drivers of the state’s economy. She found it ironic that opponents to the amendment were using language about economic devastation and ruin while they were taking money out of the hands of Alaskans.
It was widely agreed by those on both sides of the argument that there was a desperate need to re-examine the PFD formula, and to debate the intention of the permanent fund and the dividend.
But, the amendment’s supporters argued, now was not that time. Vance said that “we’re going to get along a whole lot better if we just pay the full dividend,” and debate the formula and intent of the permanent fund at another time.
Many legislators made reference to the film “Groundhog Day,” in which the protagonist if forced to re-live the same day over and over again. Indeed, many of the same arguments were repeated on both sides, similar statements were made both for and against. At one point House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, said that the topics under discussion had be talked about “ad nauseam.”
After several speeches both for and against the amendment, the House voted against it, 11-20.
The House then voted on an amended bill which did not determine a PFD, added $5 million to the AMHS, and in the words of Foster, “reverses 75 percent of the governor’s vetoes.”
The bill’s supporters noted that this bill was a compromise and that there were still massive cuts being made, particularly to the University of Alaska.
Detractors said that this bill was still insufficient, and that it was surely to be vetoed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy and that by not including a PFD, it was doing a disservice to Alaskans.
The House voted for the bill 21-10.
After the vote, Representative Johnston asked for the rule which says that a meeting must be announced by 4 p.m. to be waived so that House Finance could meet at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Several members objected on the grounds that the public needed more notification for such a big issue. However, the House did vote to waive the rule but the House will not meet again until 10 a.m. Thursday.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.