Alaska House takes budget testimony this week

House advances toward spending plan, but uncertainties remain about how to pay for it

The Alaska State Capitol. (James Brooks | Juneau Empire File)

Alaskans will get their first opportunity to offer public testimony on the state’s budget this week, as the Alaska House of Representatives pushes toward a final vote on the state’s annual spending plan in early March.

 

At 1 p.m. Thursday, the House Finance Committee is scheduled to take public testimony on the state’s operating budget and mental health budget. A second round of public testimony is expected Friday.

The finance committee will be busy this week as it combines suggestions from House subcommittees into an amended version of the budget proposed by Gov. Bill Walker in December. That House version of the budget will be amended by the finance committee after public testimony, then be sent to a full vote of the House for consideration. The Alaska Senate will undergo a similar but separate version of the same process, and the two versions of the budget will be negotiated until there is a final solution by the time the Legislature adjourns — whenever that is.

This year, the amount of spending is not expected to be nearly as controversial as the subject of how the budget will be paid. Alaska lacks enough money in its principal savings account, the Constitutional Budget Reserve, to cover its multibillion-dollar deficit. With the Alaska Senate’s majority caucus firmly opposed to any new taxes, lawmakers are considering a significant draw from the Alaska Permanent Fund. That is the biggest argument of the Legislative session and is not expected to be resolved until the final vote of this year’s Legislature.

Sullivan to speak

Alaska’s junior U.S. Senator, Republican Dan Sullivan, will address the Alaska Legislature at 11 a.m. Monday in his annual speech to lawmakers. Sullivan’s speech, which is expected to last about 40 minutes, will touch on military issues more than the address given last week by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Alaska’s senior U.S. Senator. Sullivan is a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services, and the U.S. military spending bill passed by Congress includes millions of dollars for fighter aircraft facilities in Interior Alaska, and millions more for antiballistic missile defense in Alaska.

Marijuana on the agenda

Several marijuana-related bills will be heard in House and Senate committees this week. At 1 p.m. Monday, the House Judiciary Committee will take public testimony on House Bill 319, which would require marijuana licensees to be fingerprinted every six years instead of every year. In the same meeting, the Judiciary Committee will consider House Bill 316, which would seal the records of people convicted of marijuana crimes before Alaska’s legalization effort passed the ballot in 2014.

At 9 a.m. Tuesday, the House Finance Committee will consider a bill that would allow the Marijuana Control Board to continue operating for another six years. At 3 p.m. that day, the House Health and Social Services Committee will hear public testimony on House Bill 296, which would divert a quarter of all state marijuana tax revenue to a fund that pays for efforts to deter children from using marijuana. At 9 a.m. Thursday, the Senate Finance Committee will consider Senate Bill 128, the Senate version of the same legislation.

Constitutional amendments on tap

The Legislature will consider various constitutional changes this week, all of which have a steep path to follow before reaching the statewide ballot. At 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, the Senate Labor and Commerce Committee will discuss a constitutional amendment that would require voters to approve any new taxes passed by the Legislature. At 3:15 p.m. Tuesday, the House State Affairs Committee will take public testimony on House Joint Resolution 1, which would ask voters to formally repeal the constitutional amendment that declares marriage to be between one man and one woman. While Alaska’s constitutional amendment relating to marriage became a dead letter with a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision, it remains formally part of the state constitution.

At 1:30 p.m. Friday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hear a proposed constitutional amendment from Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin. The amendment would allow the Legislature to pass a law requiring parental consent for any child who wants to get an abortion. An Alaska Supreme Court decision has found that the Legislature does not have that power, because the child’s decision is protected by the Alaska Constitution’s right to privacy.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at jbrooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.


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