July 4, 2015 (Issue 17)
The 2015 Alaska Legislature made history in the wrong way. 144 long and dramatic legislative days to pass a fully funded budget? Ugh.
Trying to follow what exactly was going on was like snorkeling in a swimming pool of pea soup. Pretty soon, the only question people were asking: “is it over yet?”
If there is poetry in simplicity, whoever created the @Did AK Leg Adjourn? Twitter became of the bard of the Last Frontier. This, from 11 June, was the brilliant magnum opus:
At “press time” for the last newsletter, in early June, the House had just passed a hard-fought compromise budget that no one wanted to gloat about but that everyone felt at least a little proud of (as a fair, reasonable, honest deal should feel).
The House sent the hard-fought compromise budget to the Senate and the Senate said, "no thanks." We, Alaska, were back to square zero. Much hand-wringing and peroration and posturing ensued.
Another week passed. The House and Senate dueled each other in the grueling tennis match of negotiation, volleying offers and counter-offers and counter-counter-offers back and forth and back again.
And finally, on June 11, a political eureka! Bicameral compromise.
There wasn't much to it. No secret sauce. The House-Senate compromise budget was, in terms of actual numbers, the exact same (literally the exact same) as the compromise budget the House passed a week-plus prior. The Republican-led Senate tacked on "nonbinding language" (Alaska Dispatch's description), an easy and arguably cosmetic concession, and everyone, House and Senate, Ds and Rs, was happy to oblige. The end was in sight.
The bill passed with resounding majorities and all of Alaska let out a heavy sigh of relief. May the historic — see below, courtesy of political superwonk and retired legislative staffer Christopher Clark, for how historic — Fiscal Year 2016 budget process rest in peace.
After we cast our final votes, a good number of us legislators looked at each other and said, "Well, that should never, ever happen again." Pretty much all of Alaska felt the same.
But before this whole imbroglio slips into the tides of political time, the frustration begot a few sweet interludes of creativity, two of particular note:
We’re taking redistricting into our own hands.
Coppa, a coffee shop in Juneau (whose corner window table, by the way, was recently and benevolently annexed into Alaska House District 35), offered half-price ice cream and drip coffee to any State of Alaska employee who presented a pink slip.
Marc Wheeler, the owner: "If you can turn lemons into lemonade, why not turn a layoff letter into ice cream?"
Geoff Kirsch, author of Juneau Empire's "Slack Tide" column, and grand potentate of a small Twitter empire, started a GoFundMe.
Geoff's thesis statement: "By forcing this shutdown — even threatening to force it — the Legislature’s message to Alaska is clear: Go fund yourself."
The effort has raised $80 to date.
TBD when Geoff, Commissioner of Revenue Randy Hoffbeck, and Budget Director Pat Pitney will have one of those awkward photo ops with a frozen-in-time handshake and giant check. Soon, let's hope.
Thank You, May We Have Another?
Another special session?
Yes, another special session! ETA November (or sometime in the fall).
The legislature is done with the budget, thank goodness. Next special session we tackle the colossus of Alaska LNG, which, if built, will be one of the most biggest, most expensive infrastructure projects in the history of the world.*
It’s a big deal. A really big deal.
More to come (including what that * means).
Happy Fourth of July and happy birthday, America,
Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins
Rep. JKT Media Management
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