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Alaska legislature begins second special session to resolve budget crisis

Published: Jun. 23, 2021 at 5:02 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - On Wednesday, June 23, the Alaska State Legislature met in Juneau to resolve a budget crisis facing the state.

This meeting marked the start of a second special legislative session called by Governor Dunleavy last week.

Despite the passage of a budget by the House and Senate last week, issues remain which could potentially shut down Alaska’s government.

Democrat Elvi Gray-Jackson, State Senator for District I, gave an opening invocation, saying, “Help us to put our egos aside and focus on our constituents, and specifically our state employees who provide our services our citizens deserve. Help us to see the magnitude of what will happen if we don’t do what we must efficiently and expeditiously.”

Alaska faces a government shutdown on July 1st if both chambers fail to get a two-thirds vote to make the budget effective on that day.

Jesse Kiehl, Democratic State Senator for District Q, said, “Shutdown doesn’t really punish you and me a whole lot, legislators in this building, but our constituents, Mr. President. They’re going to feel it if it happens. We’re here to stop it from happening.”

Meanwhile, Republican Sara Rasmussen, Representative for District 22, explained, “It has a pretty great trickle down effect into the private sector when government is unable to accomplish our budget and ultimately shuts down.”

At a press conference last week, Governor Dunleavy called the budget defective for not including a new effective date. “We’re hoping that the legislature can fix some of the problems with the budget, but constitutionally, we cannot ignore, for example, the effective date,” he said.

Some legislators argue that the Governor is using a new interpretation of the constitution by requiring an effective date to pass with a supermajority, While others insist that the Governor’s requirement is constitutionally sound.

Republican David Eastman, Representative for District 10, said, “When you are in an environment when the constitution is not consistently followed, there is nothing so threatening to the status quo as when a governor or someone in authority threatens to follow the constitution, and in this case that certainly appears to be the case.”

As tensions ran high, some legislators called for bipartisanship, including Rasmussen, who said, “I hope that we can find a compromise and come together and get this passed for the benefit of all our constituents.”

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