Special committee continues debating operating budget, PFD still undecided

Published: May. 13, 2019 at 7:05 PM AKDT
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A special committee on the budget has voted to fully fund school bond debt reimbursement and make modest cuts to the University of Alaska.

The committee has still not taken up more contentious provisions, such as the amount set aside for the Permanent Fund Dividend, before the constitutional deadline to end session strikes overnight Wednesday.

“The Permanent Fund Dividend clearly remains the most contentious issue that’s out there,” said House Speaker Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham. “The Permanent Fund Dividend, there are discussions going on literally by the hour down here.”

The Senate approved a full statutory dividend at roughly $3,000 while the House did not include the PFD in its budget, choosing to debate the amount separately.

If the conference committee doesn’t debate the PFD, it could be taken out of the budget and negotiated separately in its own bill.

“I’d prefer to see it in a different vehicle because it’s a higher level than a number in the budget, but we continue to work with Senate leadership on that,” said Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole. “There has not been a decision made on that yet.”

House minority leader Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, expressed frustration Monday that the PFD wasn’t debated earlier in the session. The House minority pushed to debate the dividend on the floor but members were overruled by the majority who wanted it in separate legislation.

“I said then, ‘You need to have the conversation now and not wait until the end to have this conversation,’” said Pruitt.

The conference committee met Monday afternoon to reconcile the remaining differences between the budgets passed by the Alaska House of Representatives and the Senate.

Three senators and three representatives unanimously approved a measure that would send over $100 million to municipal governments across Alaska in FY2020 to pay for school construction costs.

In a last minute change, the committee approved holding back $2 million in Unrestricted General Funds from the final bill.

In its budget, the House had approved paying 50 percent of the state’s school bond debt reimbursement costs while the Senate’s budget approved paying the full bill. The governor had proposed eliminating the payments all together, citing the state’s $1.6 billion deficit.

Meanwhile, the committee approved a $5 million reduction from the University of Alaska, well short of the $134 million cut proposed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy. The House had approved a $10 million cut but the committee approved the smaller reduction in the Senate’s budget.

Copyright 2019 KTUU. All rights reserved.

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