JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — The Alaska House on Saturday voted against accepting a state spending package passed by the Senate that included payments of about $5,500 to residents.
The vote to concur with the Senate package failed, with 18 members in favor of accepting the Senate plan and 22 against. The vote sets the stage for a conference committee, with the regular legislative session set to end by Wednesday. In a conference committee, House and Senate negotiators are tasked with hashing out differences between the budgets that passed each chamber.
The House, in its version of the budget, included a dividend of about $1,250 plus a $1,300 “energy relief” check. The Senate plan called for a dividend of about $4,200 from the state’s oil wealth fund, an amount in line with a long-standing formula last used in 2015. The Senate plan also included a $1,300 energy check.
Generally, the co-chairs of the House and Senate Finance committees are among the conferees. House Speaker Louise Stutes did not include in her appointments to a conference committee House Finance Co-chair Neal Foster, who voted to accept the Senate plan. Foster, from Nome, cited the importance of a larger payout to residents in rural areas struggling with high energy costs.
Some lawmakers have argued the state is benefitting from high oil prices and can afford to help Alaskans who are struggling. But critics of the higher payments to residents say oil prices are volatile and the oil price in the state revenue forecast can’t be assured.