Legislative Session Review: Alaska

By Sarah Clark | June 12, 2018

Alaska - Adjournment Graphic

Alaska adjourned sine die on May 13, and Governor Bill Walker (I) finished acting on the bills within the allotted 20-work day period after adjournment. While past years have often bled into special sessions, legislators reached compromises this year and the state’s deficit was addressed within the standard session.

In this productive year, lawmakers passed legislation (AK HB 331) that will allow the state to borrow up to $1 billion to pay off oil and gas tax credits. Companies will be paid less than they are owed, but receive funds faster than previously expected. The legislature also passed a statewide smoke-free workplace bill, increased the cap on commercial fishing loans, produced a crime omnibus bill, and updated its 20-year old policy on sexual harassment. Amongst all of the legislative activity, however, two items stand out.

Legislative Highlights

  • To cope with a persistent deficit in the state budget, legislators opted to use resources from the Permanent Fund instead on drawing down on savings, as has been done in past years. Traditionally, the Permanent Fund’s principal is protected and earnings are solely used to pay dividends to residents. Thus, the decision to use earnings to pay state operating expenses deviates from precedent.
  • Alaska also made the significant decision to move forward with the Juneau Access Improvements Project. Opponents claim that the 51-mile road could have potentially harmful impacts on the environment, while proponents are eager to improve access to the state’s capital. Currently, Juneau can only be accessed by plane or ferry, which carries substantial costs for the state.

Election Preview

Governor Walker is up for reelection in November. As an Independent, he could see challengers from both the Republican and Democratic parties. Lengthy special sessions over the past few years have exhausted many Alaskan lawmakers, which shows in the high departure rate. Ten percent of the legislators have announced they are quitting or retiring, and several are leaving with hopes of securing a higher elected office. It’s expected that more lawmakers will not seek reelection and will simply ignore the deadline for filing for candidacy. This fall, the entire 40-member House and half of the 20-member Senate will face elections, in addition to the elections for governor and lieutenant governor.

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