ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - With just over three weeks left in the 31st Alaska Legislature's first extended regular session, lawmakers and the governor are ratcheting up pressure to pass bills and bring spending in line with their political beliefs.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy spoke at the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce's Make it Monday event and then held a news conference at his Anchorage office to pressure lawmakers to pass his crime bills before the end of the 121-day session.
When asked if he'd call a special session if his crime bills don't pass before then, Dunleavy said no idea is off the table.
"I'm not going to take that off the table. This is the primary function of government, it has to help its people be safe. And we've talked about this. And I think there is enough support within the legislature to pass bills," Dunleavy said. "We just have to make sure that committee chairs are in tune with those people as well as Alaskans to get these bills moving. We have plenty of time to do this."
The governor has proposed legislation that would pay $3,678 to eligible Alaskans over three years for the prior three years of reductions to the Permanent Fund Dividend — a central promise of his 2018 gubernatorial campaign.
He has also proposed an austerity budget that would make sweeping cuts to state spending, and says the focus should be less on how much is spent and more on whether something is successful.
Asked if there was a conflict between his campaign promise to provide full dividends and fully funding public safety, he said this:
"Why would there be?" Dunleavy said. "The dividend has been fine for 40 years. So really what you're saying is, 'Can we use the dividend to fill the hole instead of reducing the size of government or expecting our systems to become more efficient?' I don't see the dividend as the problem, to be honest with you."
Dunleavy told the Chamber that the University of Alaska system would be "leaner and meaner," and also that the ferry system is operating at unsustainable levels.
Dr. Cathy Sandeen, the chancellor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said her campus is in a holding pattern as the budget is being debated, but that some employees are looking for other jobs as a result of the uncertainty.
"We are in a holding pattern now we have to kind of wait and see where it lands. There's a vast difference between what the legislature is proposing and what the governor has proposed, and we are making some plans. But, we just have to wait and see what we're dealing with," Sandeen said.
Tim Thompson, the Anchorage Chamber Board Chair, said his members are focused on three things:
"Part of the Anchorage chamber's mission, especially in the legislative side, is to make sure we have a sustainable budget, that there is a fiscal plan in place, and be looking at revenue sources," Thompson said.
Dunleavy joked that he knew some people were saying his proposed budget was from the "imagination of a madman."
"We knew when we dropped our budget on Feb. 13 that it would elicit a discussion, and it did elicit a discussion, there's no doubt about it, a big decision amongst all groups all across Alaska which it was intended to do," Dunleavy said.