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By The Associated Press
and Daily News Staff
A divided Alaska House late Thursday approved a state spending package and adjourned from the special legislative session.
The House-approved package combines state operating and capital budgets.
Minority House Republicans strongly objected, calling it bad process and warning that it could tarnish relationships among lawmakers.
The move came near the end of a special legislative session marked by uneven progress with the Senate toward reaching agreement on the operating budget, which has been in a conference committee. The special session was scheduled to end Friday. The new fiscal year starts July 1.
Late Thursday evening, the House Majority Coalition issued a statement saying the House acted to prevent a government shutdown.
“Our actions tonight were not taken lightly,” House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, said in the statement. ‘We simply had to remove the threat of a government shutdown from over the heads of Alaskans and our already struggling economy.
“We negotiated in good faith for a comprehensive and evenhanded fiscal plan, but the Senate Majority refused to consider anything other than their plan to cut permanent fund dividends,” Edgmon said.
The budgets approved by the House reverse the Senate’s $69 million reduction to K-12 education while restoring the full amount of the expected PFDs, according to the House announcement.
House Finance Committee Co-chair Paul Seaton, R-Homer, said the House coalition tried to reach fiscal solutions based on good public policy.
“The Senate majority seemed unmoved by the prospect of a government shutdown and refused to concede on their cuts to public education and anything other than cuts to PFDs as new revenue,” Seaton said in the House majority statement.
Senate President Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, said in a statement that the Senate was “deeply disappointed” in the House majority’s action.
“Contrary to the House Majority’s rhetoric, their budget and adjournment tonight does not avert a government shutdown, but forces the Legislature into an additional special session that adds costs, grows uncertainty for the public and private sectors, and further hampers the ability of the two bodies to reach a compromise,” Kelly said, adding that the House action “was a betrayal of many conversations between the two bodies in an attempt to compromise.”
Gov. Bill Walker issued a statement saying that “we were surprised by the House majority’s actions tonight.
“They did not get the job done for Alaska,” Walker said. “A compromise is required to protect Alaskans and put the state on a stable fiscal path.”
Earlier in the day, Kelly had said he was “very encouraged” at progress being made as lawmakers near the end of the current special session.
Kelly said the Republican-led Senate’s highest priority is to avoid a government shutdown, and doing that means passing a state operating budget. He said the consequences of a shutdown would be devastating.
Walker last month called lawmakers into a special session to finalize a budget and address the state’s multibillion-dollar deficit. The special session is scheduled to end Friday, with neither of those tasks completed.
Thursday’s announcement from the House majority coalition said the combined capital and operating budget was being sent to the Senate for consideration.
“The members of the Coalition urge their Senate colleagues to accept the budget so that Alaska’s airports stay open, sport fishing, commercial fishing, and tourism can continue uninterrupted, and thousands of hard-working state employees stay on the job serving the people of Alaska,” states the announcement.
Kelly said the House action places the state at risk of a shutdown.
“The Senate majority will be responsible with Alaska’s reserves, and will not support this budget that jeopardizes the financial future of our state,” Kelly said. “We remain committed to a fully funded (fiscal year 2018) operating budget in sufficient time to avoid a government shutdown.”