Legislature adjourns without budget, Walker calls 4th special session

Ready or not, here comes special session number four.

At 12:01 a.m. Thursday, Gov. Bill Walker signed a proclamation calling the Legislature back to work, almost immediately after the House and Senate adjourned late Wednesday when it became apparent a budget deal could not be struck.

The 30-day special session, which will be the fourth for this Legislature and the governor, officially begins in Juneau Monday at 11:00 a.m.

The special session will include 10 items: notably, the state operating and capital budgets, oil and gas tax credit reform, legislation establishing an annual draw from the earnings of the Permanent Fund to pay for government, a tax package, and several non-revenue issues such as forming a state health care reinsurance program and insurance for families of emergency responders killed in the line of duty.

With the regular session over, all bills that didn’t pass died. The items on the special session call either have to be redrafted and go through the committee process once more or the Legislature can resurrect the bills it was working on through joint House-Senate resolutions.

“We’re not submitting anything that’s brand new, that hasn’t been seen,” Walker said at a Thursday morning press briefing.

He decided to let everyone “take a deep breath” and come back Monday morning after discussing the special session with House and Senate majority leadership late Wednesday, Walker said.

Several legislators said they plan to head home over the weekend for the first time in weeks or months.

Much like last year, the administration will be forced to issue “pink slips” to all state employees if the operating budget is not passed and funded by June 1. The current budget funds operations through June 30, the end of the 2016 state fiscal year. Without an approved 2017 fiscal year budget, government will shut down July 1 and all non-essential government workers would be laid off. The state is required to give its workers 30 days notice of pending layoffs.

Last year’s two spring special sessions stemmed strictly from wrangling over budget cuts; Democrats in the House Minority caucus leveraged their votes needed to approve a draw from the Constitutional Budget Reserve savings account to add back funding for education and the Alaska Marine Highway System.

This year, the House Minority is the group advocating for budget cuts — to the much debated, publicized, scrutinized, and defended oil and gas tax credit program. Needing special sessions to pass budgets means Alaska’s 29th Legislature failed both times to meet its only constitutional requirement in regular time — passing a funded budget.

Additionally, the governor continues to push for installation of his New Sustainable Alaska Plan to eliminate the states’ $4 billion budget deficit by fiscal year 2019.

Walker said that without a fiscal plan the special session déjà vu will continue.

“We were here last year; we’re here this year and we never want to be here again and that’s why we went out to Alaska in a very broad way to put together the plan,” he said.

“It’s painful to be where we are today but I guess the point is to make sure we’re not here again.”

Legislators had the option to extend the already extended session for up to 10 more days to resolve the tax credits and budgets, but Walker had said previously he would call a special session to address the revenue bills if they were not passed in some form.

When the House — with a split Republican-led majority — did not concur with the Senate’s version of the tax credit legislation House Bill 247 late Wednesday night, the Senate adjourned, leaving the House little option but to follow suit.

The governor has been fairly quiet during the first two regular legislative sessions of his term, for the most part staying out of debates even on his own bills. Walker said Thursday that he and members of his administration will spend the weekend trying to draft a compromise oil and gas tax credit bill and that his presence will be more noticeable in trying to reach agreements in the coming weeks.

“Now it’s a process that I’ve created in some respects. I will be much more involved with legislators,” the governor said.

Chenault said repeatedly at a press briefing just after midnight Wednesday that he was frustrated “the goal posts kept changing” during the last days of the session regarding what the minority needed for a budget compromise.

Getting the budget done and “off the table” so it can’t be used as a leverage item is key in finishing the rest of the Legislature’s work, he said.

House Minority Leader Rep. Chris Tuck was positive about how things went with the House Majority and commended the governor for continuing to push a comprehensive fiscal plan.

“Mike Chenault did a really good job of trying to pull things together in the end,” Tuck said.

He was less eager to spread praise to the other chamber, however.

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