Lacking numbers, legislative veto override fails
The Alaska House and Senate in a Wednesday joint session failed to override Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s $444 million vetoes, falling eight votes short of the necessary 45.
Only 38 lawmakers attended the Juneau session.
Of those, 37 supported the override. North Pole Republican Rep. Tammie Wilson voted no, saying the most prudent route is to restore the funds in another appropriations bill.
Still, lawmakers took time to go on record against the 182 line items removed from the budget last month.
And they didn’t mince words.
“We’ve got to tell the governor we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore,” said House Majority Leader Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks.
Earlier that day, Anchorage Republican Sen. Natasha von Imhof weighed in.
“I cannot fathom why the governor is purposely throwing Alaska into a severe economic recession,” she said. "It would be one thing if we didn’t have the revenue, but we do."
Dunleavy called lawmakers into session to address a $3,000 Permanent Fund dividend, but he has yet to produce a bill for lawmakers consideration.
The size of the dividend against the back drop of the vetoes was not lost on some lawmakers.
“[You] may not have a job, or a home or heat or medical care, [but] you’ll have $3,000 in your pocket,” von Imhof said. “Better make it last because that’s all you’re going to get."
She earlier said, "Here's the scary thing, I don't think anybody in the administration understands the full implications of all the vetoes and the fund sweeps. When we ask the governor he says, 'I'll get back to you.'"
Wilson was the lone hold out, saying she believes there are more constructive ways to address the vetoes, noting the hearing had already lasted two hours by the time she spoke.
“We can’t override the vetoes without 45 votes,” she said. “Even with my math skills, I’m pretty sure we can’t get there if we don't have 45 people. What we could do with 21 on one side and 11 on the other is that we could take these vetoes and we could go one-by-one through our finance committees and we could talk about whether or not there is a better step-down approach.”
While lawmakers in Juneau debated Dunleavy’s vetoes, the remaining 22 either had excused absences or were in Wasilla, where Dunleavy told lawmakers he wanted them to meet at Wasilla Middle School. There, legislators faced protesters who chained themselves to outside doors or jeered lawmakers inside the school gym for not being in Juneau voting to override the vetoes.
Back in the Capitol, the two chambers recessed until Thursday morning hoping those in Wasilla would agree to come to Juneau and participate in the debate and the vote.
Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, lost her position as Senate majority leader by joining others in Wasilla. She remains steadfast that lawmakers should be there and said she does not envision anyone returning to Juneau Thursday.
“The only constitutional call, the only statutory call is the one made by the governor,” she said. “There is only one call right now on the Legislature and it’s in Wasilla.”
Despite the lack of votes, House and Senate leaders say it was time well spent.
“This is a very, very serious matter,” said Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Fairbanks. “It was felt in that room today. Those were not speeches that were crafted. They were heartfelt statements.”
House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, concurred.
“Alaskans wanted to see us have the vote,” he said. “I think they probably wanted to see who was on their side.”
Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, said the override debate reflects a response to thousands of Alaskans who reached out to lawmakers after the June 28 veto announcement.
“Was it worth it to stand up for Alaska? Yes,” he said. “Was it worth it to point out those who didn’t have the courage to be here and fight for Alaska? Yes. Is it worth it to let those thousands of people in Alaska who have told us, implored us to override these vetoes, that there are at least a majority of legislators who are serving that support them? Yes. [...] If we don’t stand together, Alaskans lose.”
Separately, Dunleavy signed the capital budget, which funds transportation and construction projects, plus other one-time funding. The legislation, Senate Bill 19, did not have the necessary funding to cover the items, so lawmakers will still have to address that during this or another special session.
Dunleavy has said he would place the capital budget on the call when lawmakers report to Wasilla. So far, neither his Permanent Fund dividend bill nor a capital budget bill are on the agenda.
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