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3/23/2019
Speaker: No movement yet: Alaska budget package

By BECKY BOHRER
Associated Press

JUNEAU — The speaker of the Alaska House said Friday that Gov. Mike Dunleavy is sending mixed messages on his willingness to work with lawmakers on a budget package.

Speaker Bryce Edgmon, an independent from Dillingham, told reporters his takeaway from meetings with Dunleavy is that the Republican governor is open to discussions. But Edgmon said he doesn't see movement toward a compromise that will bring the session to a timely close.

Edgmon said Dunleavy appears to continue pushing a budget with large cuts, payout of a full dividend check to Alaskans from the state's oil-wealth fund and paying residents the amount they missed out on when checks were capped the last three years.

"In our conversations with him, the tone is that he's willing and open to discuss things with the Legislature. But then you see what he's sort of expressing publicly, which is a whole different message," Edgmon said.

He said he was disappointed with radio ads the administration says it bought ahead of a series of budget and policy events. The ad touts Dunleavy's position and says an option being discussed on the House side is an "80 percent tax" on the dividend.

The House Finance Committee is holding meetings around Alaska this weekend to gather public comment on the budget, and Dunleavy plans to participate in meetings around the state next week, five of which are being hosted by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity-Alaska.

House Finance Committee Co-Chair Neal Foster, a Nome Democrat, said he doesn't see a lot of support among lawmakers for Dunleavy's idea to back-pay dividends. He said the House, which is controlled by a bipartisan coalition composed largely of Democrats, is aiming for a lower budget but still working through potential cuts. He said the dividend amount is an unsettled issue.

Dunleavy chief of staff Tuckerman Babcock said any path forward requires negotiation. But he said the House hasn't presented a plan of its own yet.

"The House has said, 'We don't like what you've done, please start negotiating,'" Babcock said. "And what we're saying is, 'We'd love to talk, but why don't you put your cards on the table and present your plan to Alaskans?'"

He said the ad reference to the dividend speaks to a potential status quo budget that doesn't take from savings or rely on new taxes.