Uncertainty over budget, unfinished bills, leave legislative aides in limbo

JUNEAU — In her 27 years as a legislative staffer, Sheila Peterson has seen many sessions end with a late night of packed hallways and visits by lobbyists.

But not this year.

“The halls are usually filled with people who want to see action on a bill,” said Peterson, who works as an aide to Rep. Alan Dick, R-Stony River. “Today, the halls are vacant.”

Also empty are cardboard moving boxes used to send legislative material back to home districts. The boxes lie folded in some lawmakers’ offices, an indication to staffers that negotiations over the capital budget are almost certain to keep elected officials past the session’s planned Sunday night.

Thomas Reiker, a session aide to Rep. Bob Lynn, R-Anchorage, had planned a trip to visit family in Missouri.

“At this point I’m not going to rebook my ticket and cost myself however many hundreds and hundreds of dollars,” Reiker said. “I was supposed to leave by Tuesday but don’t think they’re supposed to be done by then.”

The uncertainty began last week when the Senate unveiled a $2.9 billion capital budget that House lawmakers say does not give them enough room to add their own projects. The Senate has yet to formally forward the bill to the House, because it wants assurances that the final product will retain its size and structure.

Negotiations continued Sunday afternoon.

Sen. Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage, chairman of the Rules Committee, said staff employed only for the session have a job until Thursday. He said he has not made arrangements to extend their employment if the budget deadlock continues beyond then.

“Staffers all know when they sign up that this is an at-will job and that there will be questions at the end of the session,” Ellis said, adding that he will decide whether to keep staffers on past Thursday if the Legislature is still not done by then.

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