House, Senate leaders dismiss Dunleavy's Wasilla special session
The Alaska Legislature announced on Monday plans to hold an upcoming special session in Juneau and Anchorage, rejecting Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s order to meet at Wasilla Middle School.
The plan calls for holding floor sessions, plus most of the committee hearings in Anchorage, a savings of several hundred thousand dollars, according to a cost analysis released last week.
Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, said last week the Legislature should determine where it will meet, as part of a separation of powers. In a statement Monday, Giessel joined House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, saying:
“[T]he majority of the legislators in both bodies considers it our right to determine the location and the venue best equipped to conduct business on the Governor’s special session call, while providing the most access to as many Alaskans as possible.”
The two added the Legislature fell one vote shy of the 40 votes needed to call themselves back into session, which would have overruled the governor's call and given the Legislature authority over the session's agenda.
Giessel and Edgmon have also long said Dunleavy needed to broaden the scope of the session.
Dunleavy issued a proclamation for lawmakers to address the size of the Permanent Fund dividend, but failed to include a capital budget, which largely funds construction and road projects. The governor remained steadfast that the dividend adhere to the statutory formula, or about $3,000, this year.
Those opposing that sum say it’s not sustainable and want how future dividends get calculated in the special session.
“We respectfully urge the governor to add to his call the capital budget and long-term issues related to the permanent fund,” the leaders said in their joint statement Monday.
Last week, the Legislative Affairs Agency issued a cost estimate for a Wasilla special session. It projected the tab to be $1.3 million, or about $300,000 more than the most expensive session on record, according agency records. It’s also about $43,000 per day for the 30-day session.
The report also studied an option that would split a session between Juneau and the Anchorage Legislative Information Office. That would cost $853,999.
The agency also said Dunleavy’s administration failed to answer about three pages' worth of concerns that represented a “disregard for the Legislature’s rules and protocols.”
The agency identified concerns drafted in a six-page response last month when the administration first presented the idea to the Legislature — issues it believes the administration still has not addressed. Those included: work space; information technology and security and safety.
In their own statement Monday, members of the Republican House minority called the move "an escape."
“The fact that legislative leadership plans to run away from the Mat-Su Valley back to their hiding places in Juneau is extremely illuminating,” said House Minority Leader, Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage. “The legislative leadership has already tried to have these conversations on the budget, PFD, and education in the dark back rooms of far-away Alaska; they haven’t found answers. Now, we should be having these conversations in full view of the public.”
Rep. Colleen Sullivan Leonard, R-Wasilla, also panned the move.
“This is a slap to the face of every Alaskan who lives on the road belt, and especially those in the Mat-Su Valley who have prepared their lives and businesses to accommodate the legislature,” she said. "Escaping to Juneau to deny a vast majority of Alaskans the opportunity to engage in the process in-person is unacceptable.”
In his own statement Monday afternoon, Dunleavy accused legislative leadership of subverting the law.
“The Senate President and Speaker of the House admit they lack the votes to change the venue or call a special session of their own, yet they are committed to thwarting the law and the voice of the Alaskan people," Dunleavy said. "This is all part of why Alaskans have lost trust in their lawmakers. How can we with a straight face expect people to follow the law when the legislative leadership ignores, breaks, and skirts the law at every turn?”
The governor also stated the move has no legal basis, citing that he is "clearly empowered" to choose the location based on state statute.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to include a response from Gov. Dunleavy.
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