Alaska Lawmakers Tasked With Making Budget Recommendations

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Alaska lawmakers tasked with making recommendations on a state fiscal plan said they want to come up with proposals that can receive broad support.

The House last month agreed to set up the working group as part of a compromise aimed at averting a potential partial government shutdown.

The group has eight members, two from each House and Senate caucus. Several members during their first meeting in Anchorage Wednesday expressed the importance of compromising, KTOO Public Media reported.

Sen. Lyman Hoffman, the lone Democrat in the Senate majority and a work group co-chair, said legislative leaders are committed to having the House and Senate act on the group’s recommendations.

“I would like to remind the people of Alaska, the House of Representatives and the senators, and especially the members of this committee: We have the opportunity to have the battle. We may not all win it. But at the end of the day, we should accept what work has been done,” said Hoffman, who is from Bethel.

The state has been grappling with deficits for years. With lawmakers in 2018 beginning to tap oil-wealth fund earnings — traditionally used to pay yearly dividends to residents — considerable time has been spent focused on the dividend amount. A long-standing formula for calculating dividends was last used in 2015.

The work group was tasked with coming up with recommendations aimed at providing “fiscal certainty," through means including a balanced budget and resolving the dividend dispute.

The intent is for recommendations to be presented for the next special session. Corey Allen Young, a spokesperson for Gov. Mike Dunleavy, said it remains the governor's intent to have a special session beginning Aug. 2. However, work group members and legislative leaders suggested the date could be moved if the group needed more time.

Members have diverse opinions about issues like the dividend, which was not on the special session's original agenda.

Other Senate work group members are Majority Leader Shelley Hughes, a Palmer Republican; Sen. Jesse Kiehl, a Juneau Democrat; and Sen. Scott Kawasaki, a Fairbanks Democrat.

House members are Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, a Sitka Democrat who will serve with Hoffman as co-chair; Rep. Calvin Schrage, an Anchorage independent; and Republican Reps. Ben Carpenter of Nikiski and Kevin McCabe of Big Lake.