Alaska lawmakers make small move toward averting government shutdown

Conference committee agrees on compromises to administration and commerce budgets
  • A conference committee, composed of three Representatives and three Senators, agreed to budgets for the Department of Administration and Commerce on Tuesday. (James Brooks | Juneau Empire)

JUNEAU — The Alaska Legislature will not call for the outsourcing of DMV licensing and administrative services to a private company.

The decision came Tuesday as lawmakers took a small step forward in their effort to avoid a statewide government shutdown in the first week of July.

Three Representatives and three Senators met in a brief conference committee to agree upon the budgets for the Alaska Department of Administration and the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.

The House and Senate have each approved different versions of the state’s operating budget for the coming fiscal year (which starts July 1), and the conference committee has been tasked with ironing out the differences. If the committee fails to complete its mission by July 1, state government will shut down.

Separate negotiations are ongoing to determine how the state will pay for the budget being considered by the conference committee.

“Two agencies have now been agreed upon completely,” said Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer and the House chairman of the conference committee.

Senate President Pete Kelly called Tuesday’s action something that “could’ve been done back in April,” but said it’s something necessary if lawmakers have any chance of averting a shutdown.

The most significant decisions Tuesday came in the budget for the Department of Administration, where conferees agreed to cut $442,600 from the department’s travel budget, reducing it to 2015 levels. The Senate had proposed the cut, citing the availability of teleconferencing.

Conferees also agreed to remove a call for the state to “outsource administrative and licensing services to private sector business partners to the extent practicable.”

That request had been made by the Senate.

In the Department of Commerce, lawmakers approved a $50,000 grant to the Medallion Foundation, which aids aviation safety, and agreed to divert $15,000 in vehicle rental tax receipts to a seasonal position at the Tok Visitor Center on the Alaska Highway.

Speaking during the meeting, Seaton said other departments’ budgets will come up quickly.

“Expect that later this week. I do expect that we will meet again later this week,” he said.

Once conferees agree on a compromise budget, it still must be approved by the House and Senate, and lawmakers must find a way to pay for it.

• Contact reporter James Brooks at [email protected] or call 419-7732.

06/07/2017 - 2:50pm