Morning Headlamp – House Majority Ends Budget Debate & Silences Minority

Flip flop, flip flop. The Alaska House reversed itself Thursday and approved a sharp cut in its daily expense payments for next year, while one lawmaker introduced a new proposal to let a nonpartisan commission rather than the Legislature itself set future rates. By a 32-5 vote, the House on Thursday approved a budget amendment to cut more than half of each lawmaker’s per diem payments, now more than $200, for a total reduction of more than $14,000 per legislator over the course of a nominal 90-day legislative session. The per diem question has dogged the House budget process for the past month, with critics arguing the rate of the payments — set by the federal government — is far more than needed to cover legislators’ costs.

Headlamp must note that Rep. Jason Grenn, who proposed the budget amendment yesterday, apparently had a change of mind regarding the issue of per diem. Just a few days ago, he and other Majority members voted against cutting per diem during the House Finance Committee debate over the budget. Rep. Tammie Wilson had been pressing this issue in House Finance. Headlamp is happy with the outcome, but questions whether the Majority is playing games and posturing while trying to take credit for budget cuts the Minority has come up with.

End of debate. In a historic move on Thursday, the House Majority coalition abruptly cut off debate on the budget. The vote, initiated by House Rules Committee Chair Gabrielle LeDoux, gave members 24 hours to consider a towering pile of amendments offered primarily by the Minority, but also by LeDoux’s Majority coalition. House Coalition leaders said they reached their breaking point after spending three days to get through 50 amendments, with at least that many more expected. The House spent 2 1/2 hours Thursday morning on a single amendment to cut lawmakers’ daily expense checks — a stretch that saw minority Republicans submit three handwritten amendments to the amendment, one of which, from Eagle River Rep. Dan Saddler, aimed to move the Legislature out of Juneau.

Headlamp questions the strategy of the House Majority. Without a budget, the one thing the Legislature is constitutionally mandated to do, a fiscal plan cannot be completed. The building block of a solid fiscal plan is a well-crafted, well debated budget that deserves the utmost attention.

Thanks, but no thanks Armstrong signals House Majority. Our friend Andrew Jensen at the Alaska Journal of Commerce nailed it again with his most recent commentary on the Armstrong/Repsol announcement and the House Majority’s move to increase oil taxes.

Armstrong bought leases and drilled them this winter some 20 miles from his initial find, establishing that the Nanushuk play discovered at Pikka could easily hold more than 2 billion barrels of recoverable, high quality conventional oil. Repsol billed this winter’s results as the biggest onshore conventional discovery in 30 years in a press release March 9. Just five days later, and only four days after the bill was introduced, the House Resources Committee expressed its appreciation for the Armstrong-Repsol work by reducing the net present value of their discovery with legislation that would cut their deductions for development and raise their taxes across every range of prices once they reach production.

Here is a poll that Representative Cathy Tilton is running. She’s asking Alaskans whether or not the Legislative Session should be held on the road system. Click here to take the poll.


First Reads

Trump budget cuts deeply into Alaska’s federal funding

Alaska Dispatch News, Erica Martinson, March 17, 2017

Alaska House, reversing itself, again proposes slashing its own expense payments

Alaska Dispatch News, Nathaniel Herz, March 17, 2017

With budget mired in amendments, Alaska House majority cuts off debate

Alaska Dispatch News, Nathaniel Herz, March 17, 2017

A new runway in Aniak is in the works for $55 million. People who live there don’t see any need.

Alaska Dispatch News, Lisa Demer, March 17, 2017

AJOC EDITORIAL: House Resources tells Armstrong thanks for nothing

Alaska Journal of Commerce, Andrew Jensen, March 15, 2017

Trump Weighing Eni’s Arctic Drilling Bid in Post-Obama Pivot

Bloomberg News, Jennifer Dlouhy, March 16, 2017