House Republicans announced Monday, January 21, that they will hold informational meetings on State revenue and the economy while they continue negotiations to form a majority caucus.

Rep. Dave Talerico (R-Healy) said in a press conference that he is confident House members will organize soon, though he declined to estimate when that might happen.

“I’d like to think it would be sooner than later,” he said.

“We really want to move forward,” Talerico insisted.  “We’re trying to move forward.  I wanted to let everyone know that.”

Talerico seemed poised to be the next speaker of the House the day after a November general election that gave House Republicans an apparent 21-member majority.

However, Rep. Gary Knopp (R-Kenai) refused to join a 21-member caucus, urging members to form a stronger, bipartisan coalition.

“We’re still having discussions, and we’re still working on organization, for sure,” Talerico told reporters Monday.  “As far as negotiations go, I’ve had someone ask me, ‘Well, who have you been talking to?’  Well, quite honestly, who have we not talked to?  That’s probably an easier question to answer because a lot of people have been involved in negotiations, and it’s still going on.”

“The divisive climate in our nation with politics, you might think that Republicans and Democrats just can’t get along, but that’s not been my experience here in the Capitol.  The environment is professional, cordial.  The people who need to be talking to get this resolved are.  We hope to see this come together very soon,” added Rep. Chuck Kopp (R-Anchorage).

Kopp was announced as House majority leader before Knopp’s departure.  Kopp previously told KTUU on December 31 that he expected organization within a week.

The House canceled a floor session Monday, suggesting a deal is not imminent.  

Monday was Day 7 of the 31st Alaska Legislature, meaning Alaskans haven’t had a functional government for (at least) a week.

The House cannot hold committee meetings until it organizes and elects a full-time speaker.

In lieu of formal committee meetings, Rep. Tammie Wilson (R-North Pole), who House Republicans announced in November as co-chair of the House Finance Committee, said the House will hold informal meetings on revenue projections and the Alaska economy.

On Thursday, Commissioner of Revenue Bruce Tangeman will brief the House on projected FY 2020 revenue.  The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will follow that up Friday with a presentation on oil production.

The meetings will be held in the House Finance room, with an equal number of Republicans and Democrats per an agreement with Speaker Pro Tem and former House Finance Co-chair Neal Foster (D-Nome), Wilson said.

The Senate Finance Committee received those presentations last week.

Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard (R-Wasilla) will also head a pair of meetings on economic outlook.

Talerico and Kopp said House members are starting to coalesce around the shared goals of fiscal responsibility, public safety, and the Permanent Fund dividend (PFD). Wilson added that this week’s meetings will help members focus their priorities.

Even if the House had started the session with clearly delineated caucuses, Wilson believes the delay in receiving a revised budget from Gov. Mike Dunleavy would have pushed them beyond their 90-day statutory limit. 

Dunleavy is expected to release his budget near a February 13 deadline.  Typically, the House would be a couple weeks into the subcommittee process by that date.

Wilson says Dunleavy’s budget will likely be structured differently than past budgets.  Legislators will have to figure out how to wade through it, while juggling the annual issues of evaluating State programs, closing the deficit, and figuring out the size of the PFD.

“That is not going to be an easy task,” she said.

“The caution flag is up among members because they haven’t seen the budget.  It’s hard to even comment on something we haven’t seen,” Kopp noted.

It would be easier to draw caucus lines with a budget in front of them, he added.

Dunleavy has failed to submit a ten-year spending plan as required by law, something Talerico said he would like to see.

Budget uncertainty has underscored the significance of Tuesday’s State of the State address.

The House must extend an invitation to the Senate for a joint legislative session in the House chambers in order for the State of the State address to go forward.

Talerico said he is working with former House Speaker Bryce Edgmon (D-Dillingham) on whether the House can do that with a speaker pro tem, or if the rules will have to be suspended.  Yet there seems to be general agreement that the address will happen Tuesday night as scheduled.

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