A House sub-finance committee went through its regularly scheduled business Monday morning, but not all members stuck around to the end.
The meeting was supposed to check off a step in the budget process, signaling to the full House Finance committee what education numbers proposed by the Governor were accepted and which were not. But minority members of the sub-committee, including Nikiski Republican Ben Carpenter, walked out of the meeting before the votes were taken.
Monday morning’s meeting of the education and early development subcommittee of House Finance started routinely enough. The chair, Representative Dan Ortiz of Ketchikan got started on a list of education items that Governor Mike Dunleavy has sought to change from the previous year.
“Without getting into the specifics of the lines, what is the purpose of this document," asked Wasilla Republican DeLena Johnson.
She wasn’t happy with how this part of the budget process was taking shape, where a subcommittee votes up or down on which parts of the budget proposal it will include in the version that goes on to the next step. The ones that it doesn’t approve revert back to whatever made it into last year’s budget. It’s called the closeout process.
“I mean we’re taking action on these. We’re not calling them amendments, but it looks a lot like a budget amendment. We’re calling them action items. It appears that this is changing the budget document...We’re moving this forward. We’re doing it without debate. It appears to me that the majority has already came up with numbers and agreed on numbers and now the minority is going to have to do an up or down vote without any kind of discussion," Johnson said.
That discussion happens later, when members can bring amendments to the floor if they don’t like what came out of the subcommittee. But Johnson wasn’t alone in her disapproval. Representative Ben Carpenter didn’t like it, either.
Ortiz gaveled out for a brief at-ease, during which he and Carpenter had a discussion, and after which, Carpenter gathered his things and walked out.
“I was making a comment and actually I was asking the chair to clarify the purpose and the process of what it is we were about to do," said in an interview Tuesday.
“The question that I asked was what happens with that vote...and was told that it gets forwarded to the finance committee as the recommendations, basically the amendments, of the subcommittee. And so while we’re calling them action items, they in truth, are amendments.”
After Carpenter, Johnson and Rep. Josh Revak left the meeting, Brodie Anderson testified. He’s the Chief of Staff for Finance Committee Co-Chair Neal Foster, and it’s those co-chairs who decide to use the close out process. It was how the 2017 budget was put together.
“This year we decided that the most open and transparent way would be to have a conversation about each one of the individual budget action items for all the members to include, rather than having it pre-selected by a chair or something like that. So this is just a return to a standard practice that we had done in the past.”
Another thing about the closeout process is that it gets lawmakers on the record about which line items they support and which they don’t.
With the three minority members of the subcommittee not voting, most of the governor’s proposals, like cutting grants for broadband internet for schools or eliminating funding for pre-kindergarten grants weren’t adopted. But it also means we don’t know where those members stand on those proposals.
Carpenter didn’t offer any specifics, but said simply he supports the governor’s attempt to reign in the size and scope of government.
“I do not intend to offer any amendments at this time," he said.
Subcommittees were set to meet about the budget again Wednesday.