A 19-0 Senate vote Saturday could mean big things for the state’s financial picture depending on what the House and Gov. Mike Dunleavy do next.
The Senate approved Senate Bill 2002, which funds the capital budget and includes “reverse sweep” language. The sweep is an annual bookkeeping oddity in which hundreds of millions of dollars in various state accounts are “swept” into the Constitutional Budget Reserve.
Typically, a “reverse sweep” moves the money back into the original accounts, but the Legislature did not approve a reverse sweep when it sent a bill to the governor.
“This bill is a do-over, it’s a reset if you will,” said Sen. Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage. “I urge a ‘yes’ vote on this bill.”
Her fellow senators did exactly that.
The House Finance Committee voted Saturday to move the bill out of committee, which sets up Sunday as a likely date of a vote. The House is set to adjourn at 1 p.m., and the Senate at 2 p.m.
Every meeting and session held Saturday primarily focused on the reverse sweep aspect of the bill.
Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, said on the Senate floor Saturday the impacts of that weren’t fully understood at the time.
Historically, funds that provide college scholarships and subsidize electricity have not been swept, but the Dunleavy administration is examining more wide ranging sweeps.
“The consequences of not reversing that sweep are pretty stunning and not what many anticipated,” Wielechowski said.
Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, was an ardent voice against voting for the bill, but she did ultimately vote for it.
“I just got a copy of this bill hours ago, and I do not understand the implications,” Reinbold. “This is a big, important bill for me to understand. I am asking for a recess until my amendments are read.”
She said the bill was put together through backdoor meetings, which led to Sen. John Coghill calling for a point of order, and saying the meetings were public and transparent.
Reinbold said that’s debatable.
Other senators agreed the bill’s contents were created in the public eye and noted it was similar to a bill passed by the Legislature months ago.
“There is no subversive or secretive issues in this bill,” said Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka.
However, that capital budget failed to secure the super majority of votes needed to draw from the CBR.
In addition to the “reverse sweep” the bill includes additional funding for projects, switches the capital budget’s funding source to the CBR rather than the general fund and would provide about $250 million in “head room” for expenses that may be incurred by natural disasters such as wildfires or earthquakes.
“We’re not going to let our cities burn because we’re too tight not to have any head room,” Stedman said.
During the House Finance Committee meeting held after the Senate vote, there were questions about whether $250 million is a typical amount of head room.
Legislative Finance Director David Teal said over the years, the amount of head room has been anywhere from between $100 million and $500 million.
Rep. Kelly Merrick, R-Eagle River, noted the similarities between the bill passed by the Senate and a bill that previously fell short of the number of votes needed to draw from the CBR.
She asked why she and other lawmakers were called back to Juneau to vote on legislation that failed.
Rep. Jennifer Johnston, R-Anchorage, committee co-chair, said in light of concerns about the sweep, it’s hoped the bill passes.
Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla, wasn’t a fan of the tactic.
She said she’s “mad as heck” about being away from her hometown to be in Juneau considering a bill that isn’t a compromise.
“It’s moving backwards,” Sullivan-Leonard said.
• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.