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4/18/2017
Dunleavy still might play role in AK budget debate

By BECKY BOHRER

Associated Press

JUNEAU — The Wasilla Republican who left the Alaska Senate’s majority caucus over concerns that not enough was being done to curb state spending still could play a role in how the budget ultimately looks.

Sen. Mike Dunleavy’s departure from the Republican-led caucus left it with 14 members.

That could become an issue if the constitutional budget reserve is needed to help cover state expenses. Such a move requires support of at least 15 of the Senate’s 20 members.

Dunleavy voted with the majority to tap the reserve during an initial vote earlier this month. He recently told The Associated Press he honored a commitment he had made to the caucus in doing so.

Now, he said it’s a “different ballgame,” and his constituents will be foremost in his decision-making.

House and Senate negotiators will be tasked with coming up with a final budget compromise.

Senate majority caucus rules dictate members vote as a bloc on the budget and certain procedural matters. Being in the caucus confers benefits, including staff levels and committee spots.

In leaving the caucus, Dunleavy lost staff, his spot on the Senate Finance Committee and chairmanship of the Senate State Affairs Committee. He was reassigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

He said he has no hard feelings toward fellow Senate Republicans. Senate President Pete Kelly has said Dunleavy’s “role as friend and colleague remains the same.”

Dunleavy has advocated for deeper budget cuts and a different approach to using Alaska oil-wealth fund earnings to help cover state costs than the Senate has pursued.

Dunleavy called his decision a matter of conscience, though some have speculated he may be positioning himself to run for governor.

“Have I pondered about running for governor? I’ve pondered about running for just about everything, including running for the hills,” Dunleavy said.

He expects to make a decision on his political plans soon after the legislative session ends, he said.