Senators Dennis Egan D-Juneau and Gary Stevens R-Kodiak
The Alaska Legislature has passed a resolution authorizing lawmakers to recess until May 12 while the finance committees continue to meet in special session under order of Gov. Bill Walker. Votes along caucus lines in the House and Senate came on day three of the special session and a day after Walker told legislators to stay in Juneau and keep working on the budget.
The resolution says that while House and Senate finance committees hold hearings, the Legislature’s full membership isn’t required. It says daily floor sessions would take away from “careful consideration” by committees on subjects listed in Walker’s special session call.
The constitution says neither chamber can adjourn or recess for more than three days unless the other chamber concurs and while the governor can order them into a special session, he can’t tell them where to hold committee meetings.
During floor debate in the Senate, Kodiak Republican Gary Stevens said that under normal conditions he would support staying in Juneau.
“But this is a special time for us,” Stevens said. “We are under construction, I’m sorry to say. There’s going to be a lot of racket in this building because of major renovations are taking place.”
Juneau Democrat Dennis Egan made a pitch for staying in Juneau, saying it would be better for keeping the legislature’s business in the public eye.
“All Alaskans, Mr. President, can see what we’re doing when we do it here. Because of the generosity of the city and borough of Juneau Alaska’s capital city is wired for gavel to gavel. That’s how Alaskans from Ketchikan to Barrow, Kotzebue to Kodiak see our committee hearings and our floor sessions,” Egan said. “And then they call on us, either by phone or e-mail and they say what us to do. That’s how every Alaskan accesses the capital and that access goes down if we take the show on the road.”
Stevens, however, wasn’t convinced.
“I do want to express my appreciation to the Senator from Juneau as well as the mayor and all the others here who have gone to great extremes to make sure there are other places for us, like Centennial Hall. But it’d be very difficult,” Stevens said. “I’m afraid at this time, even though I’ve always have been supportive of Juneau, I’m to have to vote for this because I think it’s the right thing to do at this time.”
The hang up in the Legislature is an impasse over funding the state budget. The House and Senate majorities passed a budget for the next fiscal year that was only partially funded, and they need the House minority’s votes to tap the state’s Constitutional Budget Reserve to fully fund it. Minority leaders say those votes won’t come unless education funding isn’t cut as deeply and that unless the state accepts federal funds to expand Medicaid. It’s something Gov. Walker is supportive of, but which the conservative majorities have been reluctant to accept.