By Dave Donaldson
This year’s legislative session will not end Sunday night — the voter-mandated ninety day deadline. It’s not yet clear how long beyond that date members will need to finish the work that’s still pending.
Speaker Mike Chenault, in a floor speech during today’s session, said the House will not leave Juneau without having given proper attention to the capital projects budget – which is still in the formal possession of the Senate Finance committee. He said he would rather not have a budget at all than to accept a “take it or leave it” package from the Senate.
I don’t want to stay here one single day longer than is necessary. But I’m not about to leave until I know I can look my constituents in the eye and tell them we have honored the trust they have placed in us to be responsible custodians of Alaska’s future – and that means Alaska’s dollars.
Chenault said his differences with the Senate over the budget come down to a view of public process … and respect. He says legislators should research issues and listen to the public before they vote on issues.
But with this bill, Mr. Speaker, the lack of good public process bothers me to no end. The assumption that the House will ram through a two-point-nine Billion dollar bill without sound public review shows a lack of respect for the House and Alaskans. And telling the House to rush a decision without the facts is not working – and will not work. It’s like the other body is telling the House, “take it or leave it.”
Finance Co-Chair Bert Stedman – who is responsible for the Capital projects budget in the Senate – agrees there is no way the legislature can adjourn on Sunday. But it’s because of timing and rules. He says Chenault’s concerns don’t consider that the House already has access to the budget and has already been negotiating changes to it – all with the idea of putting an agreeable bill up for final votes without having to go through further amendments, conferences or negotiations.
They’re working on the bill now. You don’t have to physically have the bill to do your analysis, your work and run your reports and all that. They’ve got all that. And they can make a list of all the changes, they can make a list of all the projects they want to add, all that stuff. They can do all that.
Stedman says he’s been delaying Senate Committee action because he is waiting for final decisions from the House on a handful of issues – adding that Chenault’s comments – and willingness to stay in session — reflect – quote — “good public policy.”
Chenault said he would be willing to adjourn Sunday without a capital budget, but Stedman says the Senate would simply stay in session, using their Constitutional limit of a one hundred twenty day session rather than the statutory ninety day limit. Continuing the session instead of adjourning will keep active all the legislation that is still pending in both the House and Senate – although there has been no discussion yet of whether members would take action on anything other than the budget.