Budget vote pushed back as lawmakers explore moving special session to Anchorage

Budget vote pushed back as lawmakers explore moving special session to Anchorage

ANCHORAGE — Despite a previous plan that a two-week legislative recess would end early next week, when lawmakers originally intended to return to Juneau and vote on a funded operating budget, only a small group will convene in the construction-rattled Capitol. According to memos distributed Friday morning to lawmakers, technical sessions will be held Tuesday. The process, described in the state Constitution, in this instance allows a three-day reprieve from a budget vote. Two members from each body will travel to Juneau to perform the brief procedural task along with two Capital City lawmakers. Most of the state’s 60 lawmakers, instead, will remain in Anchorage for hearings at the new legislative information office, where this week executive and legislative budget experts have testified before the House Finance Committee on the governor’s latest budget proposal that would restore tens of millions for education, public safety, and a handful of other line items. While it remains unclear what could bridge gaps between groups bargaining over the budget — Republicans in each body, House Democrats, and the governor — the possibility of wrapping up the special session in the Downtown offices rather than going back to Juneau is being explored. A legal opinion requested by a House Republican suggested it may be possible on a technicality for lawmakers to conduct business wherever they want, against the governor’s orders that the budget be resolved in Juneau, according to House Majority Leader Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage. “It would take a court intervention. Someone would basically have to sue the Legislature,” Millett said by phone, adding that she supports working wherever makes the most sense logistically. “The court is very unlikely to get involved. They don’t...

Cops. Equality. Family values … Anchorage voters name their top Election Day issue

What matters most to Anchorage voters? We asked KTUU viewers today to name the issue they value above all others in the race for mayor. Find a sampling of the responses below and be sure to add your own thoughts in the comments. RELATED: Dress up like Batman? A free-parking day every week? How Anchorage voters would spend their first day as mayor … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … …...
On eve of Election Day, recording of provocative radio interview released

On eve of Election Day, recording of provocative radio interview released

ANCHORAGE — A recording of a provocative, months-old talk radio exchange between Ethan Berkowitz and his former KFQD co-host, Bernadette Wilson, surfaced fewer than 24 hours before voters head to the polls. The conversation about who should be allowed to legally get married has come to define the final weeks of a theoretically nonpartisan runoff race that pits the former Democratic state representative against Amy Demboski, a first-term Assembly member who is a Republican. Anchorage Baptist Temple pastor Jerry Prevo started a wave of media attention during an April 26 sermon, when he suggested Berkowitz had voiced support for incest during the exchange. Audio was not immediately produced, and the campaigns bantered back and forth for more than a week putting the rumor mill into full spin. Wilson on Monday afternoon, however, released the audio which was shared by conservative politico Joe Miller on his KOAN radio show. “I think this is just another last-minute attempt to distract people and divide the city,” Berkowitz said Monday, as he was waving signs with supporters in Mountain View, moments after the recording was released. Editor’s note: The accompanying audio file contains discussions of a sexual nature. http://ak-pipeline.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Ethan-Berkowitz-on-same-sex-marriage-incest-during-Joe-Miller-Show.mp4 WHAT THE RECORDING REVEALS At the beginning of the four-minute clip, Wilson claims Berkowitz’s position encompasses an expansive definition of marriage — mirroring what is championed by jurists like U.S. District Court Judge Tim Burgess, who struck down Alaska’s same-sex marriage ban as unconstitutional last year. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals covering Alaska has upheld other judges’ decisions to strike down similar bans in Nevada and Idaho, with the U.S. Supreme Court hearing a case last week to decide...
WATCH: Alaska senate president explains why lawmakers are taking a break

WATCH: Alaska senate president explains why lawmakers are taking a break

ANCHORAGE — Even though the Legislature has yet to pass an operating budget and two other bills remain on their desk in special session, many legislators could be seen around Anchorage or wherever their home district is this weekend. That is because on Thursday the House and Senate gaveled out until May 12, leaving the finance committees behind to continue battling over the budget. Senate President Kevin Meyer, R-Anchorage, was among those who took a break from Juneau, and he joined KTUU’s Steve Mac Donald on Alaska’s Political Pipeline to discuss how lawmakers arrived here and what happens next Steve Mac Donald: I don’t mean to draw a comparison to reality TV, but this session really has been full of drama, hasn’t it? Senate President Kevin Meyer: I’ve been doing this for over 15 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this. We’re in unprecedented times here. We’re facing huge, huge deficits. Just to get through this year, which ends June 30, we’re looking at almost a $4 billion deficit. Next year is anticipated to be just as much. We’ve never been faced with an $8 billion deficit before, and that’s what’s making this so difficult. Also, you’ve got more parties who are negotiating for their wants and needs, which is also making it more complicated. In the past you’d have the House Majority, the Senate Majority and then the governor. Now, needing to dip into the Constitutional Budget Reserve, on the House side, you now also have to include the House minority. So you’ve got four parties that are all trying to negotiate what they think is best for Alaska,...
Halcro makes last-minute Berkowitz endorsement in mayoral race

Halcro makes last-minute Berkowitz endorsement in mayoral race

ANCHORAGE — Andrew Halcro, the Anchorage mayoral candidate edged out for second place by Amy Demboski in April’s municipal elections, is backing her opponent Ethan Berkowitz a day before their runoff contest. Halcro came in third behind Berkowitz, a former state representative who garnered 37 percent of the vote, and Demboski, an Anchorage Assembly member who picked up 24 percent of ballots, at the polls on April 7. Halcro, with 22 percent, trailed Demboski by more than 1,000 votes and threw in the towel that night. Although he initially declined to endorse either Berkowitz or Demboski in their runoff race, with Berkowitz possessing a two-to-one fundraising advantage but tarred by allegations that he supported incest, Halcro broke his silence in a post on his Facebook page late Sunday questioning Demboski’s qualifications for office. “After three months on the campaign trail with Amy Demboski I worried about her maturity,” Halcro wrote. “After the last three weeks, I worry about her honesty, her integrity and her decision to allow the most extreme elements of the Republican Party to lead her campaign.” Voters will decide whether Berkowitz or Demboski will become Anchorage’s next mayor during Tuesday polls, which will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. This is a developing story. Please check KTUU.com and the Channel 2 newscasts for...
Mayoral candidates clash over radio remarks, policy issues

Mayoral candidates clash over radio remarks, policy issues

ANCHORAGE — With the sun casually setting on the edge of Downtown as a backdrop, Ethan Berkowitz and Amy Demboski sparred in a live televised debate Thursday evening at the Anchorage Museum. Only a handful of camera operators, journalists and political operatives were in the room as the two pontificated about topics that have grown familiar during the protracted race to decide who will succeed Mayor Dan Sullivan. But the quiet setting grew even quieter when moderator Steve Mac Donald posed his first question: “In the past couple of days, an 800 pound gorilla has entered this campaign,” he said, referring to a recent Demboski interview with KFQD radio host Casey Reynolds. The first-term Assembly member representing Chugiak and Eagle River declined at the time to rebuke a claim floated that her opponent may support incestuous father-son marriages. “Do you believe your opponent, Mr. Berkowitz, supports incest?” the Thursday debate began. A Demboski staffer let out a sigh. “That’s a question for Ethan,” the candidate said. “I don’t speak for Ethan. If he had comments, maybe it was taken out of context, maybe in fact it was a joke. I don’t know.” On stage, the former Democratic state representative stuck with his early response to the near-election surprise: “It’s disappointing that this has come up at this point in the campaign,” he said. “I’m not going to dignify that ridiculous accusation with a response.” Demboski also contended the Reynolds interview was akin to an “ambush,” and she said the radio host is dating Amy Coffman, a paid staffer of Berkowitz. (Coffman is listed on Berkowitz’s payroll on campaign finance records released by the Alaska Public Offices Commission. Her relationship to Reynolds could not...
3 days into special session, Legislature takes recess

3 days into special session, Legislature takes recess

JUNEAU — The Alaska Legislature has passed a resolution authorizing lawmakers to recess until May 12 while the finance committees continue to meet. Votes by the House and Senate came on day three of a special session called by Gov. Bill Walker and after Walker told legislators to stay in Juneau and keep working on the budget. It also came amid a stalemate in budget talks. The resolution says that while House and Senate finance committees hold hearings, the Legislature’s full membership isn’t required. It says daily floor sessions would take away from “careful consideration” by committees on subjects listed in Walker’s special session call. The constitution says neither chamber can adjourn or recess for more than three days unless the other chamber concurs and the resolution would constitute such...
Berkowitz & Demboski: Where they stand

Berkowitz & Demboski: Where they stand

ANCHORAGE — A wide field of mayoral candidates narrowed to two on April 7, and on Tuesday voters will decide who succeeds Mayor Dan Sullivan: Ethan Berkowitz, a former Democratic state representative, or Amy Demboski, a first-term Assembly member who is a registered Republican. Each responded to a questionnaire distributed by PIPELINE, revealing differences in how the two would approach public safety amid a shrinking budget, whether a sales tax or another form of revenue collection is needed, how the city can deal with infrastructure and housing challenges, and a range of other topics. Read their answers below, and watch their interviews further explaining their positions. . . How long have you lived in Alaska, and how long in Anchorage? BERKOWITZ: I came to Anchorage in 1990 and have lived here ever since. I met my wife Mara at the old Fly By Night Club.  We’re excited that our kids are benefitting from the excellent public school system and all of the incredible opportunities this community offers our family. DEMBOSKI: I have lived in Alaska, and the Municipality of Anchorage, for 26 years. What’s your employment and professional history? BERKOWITZ: I started my career working in the state criminal appeals court, which led me to become an Anchorage-based prosecutor in the District Attorney’s Office. After a brief stint as an enforcement officer in Antarctica, I served West Anchorage in the Alaska Legislature for ten years, championing fiscal responsibility and energy development.  Today, I work with a firm that specializes in strategic positioning; most notably, I have played a key role in developing the Pilgrim Hot Springs geothermal project outside of Nome. ...
Legislative pay will jump if tourists arrive before special session subsides

Legislative pay will jump if tourists arrive before special session subsides

ANCHORAGE — Alaska lawmakers are lingering in Juneau without agreement on a spending plan or any publicly discernible motion on proposals to expand and reform Medicaid, the main reasons Gov. Bill Walker called a special session. Each passing day comes at a price for the cash-strapped state: $30,000, more or less. That daily price tag is a rough estimate, and an exact dollar amount cannot be calculated until receipts have been tallied a couple months after session. However, a ballpark total cost so far heading into Thursday is $330,000. “Historically, looking back at a special session’s cost, it depends naturally on whether it happens immediately after the regular session or if it’s happening in September or October,” said Pam Varni, executive director of the Legislative Affairs Agency. Even without additional travel costs by calling lawmakers back later, the day-to-day price tag will jump in the coming days. When the herd of tourists walking from cruise ship to hotel thickens, after the pack of seasonal workers settles, the cost of a short-term rental in the capital city will spike. A federal survey accounting for those rising costs triggers an automatic increase in the amount of cash given daily to each of the state’s 60 lawmakers, Varni said. Per diem accounts for $13,200 of the daily bill and will rise to more than $14,000 per day when the increase kicks in. (Per diem is paid in addition to the $50,400 salary lawmakers receive.) When the session will end is anyone’s guess, but even when budget and Medicaid squabbles subside, the governor has long spoken of a plan to fight this fall over how to the get North Slope gas flowing through a pipeline. Please check back...
Mayoral candidates describe policy visions for realtors

Mayoral candidates describe policy visions for realtors

ANCHORAGE — A group of realtors gathered Wednesday afternoon to hear the mayoral candidates describe their positions on issues important to businesses and real estate development in the city. Part of the debate was a series of yes-or-no questions asked of former Democratic state Rep. Ethan Berkowitz and Amy Demboski, an Assembly member.  The moderator told candidates to hold up a paddle that said “yes” on one side and “no” on the other to signal their response. Yet on more than half of the questions posed by the Anchorage Board of Realtors, one of the two would-be mayors would not give a straight yes or no. Below are their responses. . . Do you support combining Anchorage School District and the Municipality’s property maintenance? Berkowitz: No answer Demboski: Yes Do you support permanent vehicle registration? Berkowitz: No answer Demboski: Yes Is Anchorage’s economy diverse enough to maintain real estate values over time? Berkowitz: Yes Demboski: No answer Do you agree with state law that gives municipalities — not school boards — final say over the budget? Berkowitz: Yes Demboski: No Should management of real property be transferred from the Anchorage School District to the municipality? Berkowitz: No answer Demboski: Yes If it would save money, would you favor privatizing solid waste services? Berkowitz: No Demboski: Yes If it would save money, would you support privatizing the Port of Anchorage? Berkowitz: No Demboski: Not completely, but a public-private partnership Some buildings owned by nonprofits and churches that are not used in any way for the services they provide are not subject to property taxes. Should these organizations pay taxes? Berkowitz: Yes Demboski: Churches,...
OPINION: Attacks in mayoral race take a bizarre turn, but where’s the evidence?

OPINION: Attacks in mayoral race take a bizarre turn, but where’s the evidence?

Tuesday was a weird day for talk radio in Anchorage. Conservative radio show host Casey Reynolds was filling in for Bernadette Wilson on her morning show. Joining him was Anchorage mayoral hopeful Amy Demboski, who began by lamenting that Monday’s Chamber of Commerce debate put too much of an emphasis on social issues, referring to the lengthy debate over whether or not the next mayor of Anchorage should enact legislation establishing antidiscrimination protections for LGBT citizens. “There’s this fixation,” Demboski told Reynolds. “It’s those gotcha moments. They want to nail you on the issues.” Demboski faces Ethan Berkowitz — who previously co-hosted the KFQD show alongside Wilson — in a runoff to be decided next week. She said that she wanted to talk about economic development. The interview likely failed to satisfy the request. Reynolds said that he wanted to settle one thing before segueing away from social issues. “What I’ve been told, and I’ve seen floating around Facebook, at least some people believing,” Reynolds said, “is that [Anchorage Baptist Temple Pastor Jerry] Prevo said that your opponent is supporting the right of a father and a son to get married.” This past Sunday, Prevo offered his congregants a sermon entitled “Make the Right Choice!” As is often the case, it was overtly political. In part: I’ve been told that last October, on his radio show, Ethan Berkowitz said that — he said that “I would have no problem if a father fell in love with his son and wanted to marry his own son.” Is that the kind of mayor that we want to have in the city...
Governor won’t allow legislators to move special session to Anchorage

Governor won’t allow legislators to move special session to Anchorage

JUNEAU — Gov. Bill Walker says he won’t rescind his special session proclamation or agree to a change of venue at this time. In a letter to legislative leaders, Walker says it would be a disservice to Alaskans if the Legislature left Juneau without satisfying its obligation to pass a fully funded budget. Legislators floated the idea of a recess and potentially reconvening in Anchorage. Many legislative offices were packed up last week after the regular session was originally scheduled to end. Work on the aging Capitol is set to begin soon. Legislators earlier this week passed a compromise budget but it only partially funds government for next year. The Democratic-led House minority failed to support a draw from savings to cover costs over concerns with budget...

ABOUT PIPELINE

Welcome to PIPELINE, an app and blog produced by KTUU-TV that's a one-stop source for the latest political news important to people of the Last Frontier.

Contact Austin Baird at abaird@ktuu.com or 907-762-9247 with story tips, feedback on what we're doing or if you're interested in becoming a contributor.

STORY IDEAS

Think there's something we should cover? Want to contribute an op-ed to PIPELINE? Have documents or information the public should know about? Contact Reporter Austin Baird, who moderates this blog, at abaird@ktuu.com or 907-762-9247, and follow him on Twitter: @austinbaird.

HASHTAGS

Alaska's political blog