Capitol Report for March 24, 2020


March 24, 2020

The Capitol Report

Senate Passes Budget
Yesterday the Senate passed the FY21 Operating and Capital Budget (HB 205) setting the stage for a conference committee between the House and Senate to finalize this year’s spending package.
During floor debate, several senators proposed an amendment to fund a supplemental Permanent Fund Dividend of $1,300 to all Alaskans who received the 2019 PFD. After lengthy debate the amendment was defeated by a vote of 9-10. Later in the floor session, the Senate did pass an amendment  by Sen. Mike Shower appropriating funds for an economic stimulus payment of $1,000. The payment is intended to combat the economic impact of the COVID-19 crises, and would also be directed to every Alaskan who received last year’s dividend. The amendment was adopted by a vote of 12-7. Senate Finance co-chair Sen. Natasha von Imhof later moved to rescind that amendment, citing the strain additional spending would have on state finances. Her motion was defeated by a vote of 8-10.
Also during floor debate, Sen. David Wilson introduced an amendment adding intent language to the University of Alaska’s budget. The language would require UA to limit the indirect costs for federal grants billed to the Future Farmers of America program, which is managed by UAF as part of the Cooperative Extension Service. The amendment was adopted by a vote of 10-9, and will get further review by the conference committee.
The budget passed the Senate by a vote of 17-1, with Sen. Lora Reinbold casting the lone opposition vote. The House rejected the Senate’s changes to HB 205, and both bodies have appointed members for a budget conference committee to bridge the differences between the two versions of the bill. The committee includes:
Sen. Bert Stedman, Chair (Senate)
Sen. Natasha von Imhof
Sen. Donnie Olson
Rep. Neal Foster, Chair (House)
Rep. Jennifer Johnston
Rep. Cathy Tilton
We anticipate the conference committee to convene in the coming days.
Senate Finance Advances TVEP Extension
The Senate has unanimously passed House Bill 235 to extend the Technical Vocational Education Program (TVEP). The bill was amended in the Senate Finance Committee to reauthorize the program for only one year versus three years as was initially proposed. Legislators will need to revisit TVEP again next year to continue this important program. The bill has been sent to the House for concurrence, and will then go to the Governor for his signature.  
Bond Bank Legislation Passes House
The House passed legislation to expand financing options available to the University of Alaska. HB 268, sponsored by Rep. Bart LeBon, expands the Alaska Municipal Bond Bank’s authority to permit the university to access the authority’s strong credit ratings. The bill also raises the cap for UA bond financing from $87.5 million to $500 million. The legislation could help the university fund major infrastructure projects, as was seen with UAF’S Combine Heat & Power Plant. It could create possible savings through the refinancing of existing university debt. HB 268 has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee.
Regent Garrett Confirmation Hearing
Tomorrow at 8:00 a.m., UA Student Regent Cachet Garrett is scheduled for her final confirmation hearing before the House Education Committee. The hearing will be streamed live via the Legislature’s website.
Traditionally, the Governor’s appointments to Boards and Commissions are brought before a joint session of the Legislature for confirmation. With the expedited completion of the legislative session, and concerns about gathering the entire legislature in one room given the current health crisis, the House has passed legislation  which would extend appointees service until a joint-session later in the year.