Lawmakers face deadlines, constituent pressure in 2nd special session
When Gov. Mike Dunleavy called for a second special session, he placed one item on his proclamation — solve the debate over Permanent Fund dividend size, preferably about $3,000.
On that June 13 morning, the stage was set for a session with limited focus on a single, albeit passionate and politically divisive, item with an ensuing argument over where to hold the session.
That changed on June 28.
Dunleavy vetoed $444 million from the Legislature’s budget, including an additional $130 million to the University of Alaska, repealing the state’s Senior Benefits program, and an additional $50 million to Medicaid programs.
Suddenly the dividend discussion has become secondary, at least for a little while.
Lawmakers are scheduled to gavel in Monday in Juneau for another 30-day session and instead of diving right into another dividend debate, they have five days to override any of the vetoes.
They now face three deadlines this summer:
• July 12 to override any of Dunleavy's vetoes
• July 31 to assemble a capital budget for transportation and construction projects or risk losing federal funds, according to Senate and House Finance Committee members. On Friday, Dunleavy agreed to add this to the session's agenda
• Aug. 31 to determine the size of the Permanent Fund dividend so a fund transfer can be completed and ensure a timely fall payment
However, it's the vetoes that have created the sense of urgency for the first week.
The governor's vetoes triggered floods of calls — some well into the thousands — to lawmakers’ offices, rallies that largely spoke out against the vetoes and speculation over whether the Legislature can summon the necessary 45 votes to override any of the 182 line-item rejections.
The vetoes also thrust Alaska into the national limelight with various media outlets and columnists weighing in, mostly on university funding.
“I will say I have gotten more emails and phone calls and communications from people than I’ve ever gotten in my time in the Legislature,” said Sen. Bill Wielechowski, who is among the longest-serving senators, having been elected in 2006.
“It’s literally hundreds every day and sometimes hundreds every couple of hours,” the Anchorage Democrat said. "This has really galvanized the public. People are concerned about the future of Alaska [...] people who are just shocked at the magnitude of the vetoes and urging us to override them. People are very passionate, no doubt. There’s a lot of anger, there’s a lot of concern, there's a lot of fear out all across Alaska over these vetoes.”
The passion may be there for overrides, but not necessarily the votes, at least not yet. If lawmakers can’t get behind an override, they can restore some of the funding in a capital budget still needs additional work.
Going that route, however, still gives Dunleavy another chance to veto the funding for a second time.
House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, said the prudent path forward is to restore funding in another bill with a show of widespread support rather than “going through the torture of having people vote up or down on vetoes.”
“Right now, if you do not have the numbers to override the governor, the only reason you’re doing it is for political gain; you’re trying to put people on record,” he said. “That does not bode well for creating a positive environment from which to work together going forward for the rest of this term.”
One hour before lawmakers gavel in, a rally will take place in front of the Capitol steps, imploring the Legislature to seriously consider veto overrides.
Rallies drawing hundreds of people have already taken place in Anchorage and Fairbanks.
Former Alaska Attorney General and Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho said he expects a similar-sized rally on Monday.
Copyright 2019 KTVA. All rights reserved.