Alaska Legislature fails to override governor’s budget vetoes

State Sen. Bill Wielechowski, an Anchorage Democrat, speaks in favor of lawmakers overriding Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget vetoes Wednesday, July 10, 2019, Juneau, Alaska. Nearly a third of lawmakers were absent from the session at the Capitol, opting to meet in Wasilla instead, leaving only 38 members meeting in Juneau. It would take 45 votes to override the vetoes. (Michael Penn/Juneau Empire via AP)
The Alaska Legislature failed to override Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s state budget vetoes on Wednesday.

Without enough lawmakers present to reach the required 45 votes, the vote in Juneau fell eight votes short.

The floor debate in the Alaska State Capitol focused on the consequences of the $390 million in state funding Dunleavy vetoed. Anchorage Sen. Natasha von Imhof, a Republican, said Alaskans may have to make their permanent fund dividends last.

“You won’t have a job if you work at the university, or in construction, or in any of the number of nonprofits that serve homelessness shelters or abused women’s shelters,” she said of those affected by some of the vetoes. “You might not have access to dental coverage, or Head Start preschool for your kids, or assistance to pay for heating fuel, or any tuition money. Or even an actual university to attend, for that matter.”

In Juneau, the state capital, all but one of the 14 Republican legislators — as well as all 22 Democrats and two independents — voted to override the vetoes. But 22 Republicans weren’t there, with many of them at the middle school in Wasilla, southcentral Alaska, where Dunleavy called them into special session.

That meant there weren’t enough votes to override the vetoes. That’s because Alaska’s constitution requires 45 votes to override.

Concerned legislators

Bethel Democratic Sen. Lyman Hoffman made the motion to override.

“Thousands of people have contact my office: individuals, organizations, communities and villages,” Hoffman said. “And I stand here today to tell them that I’m going to represent them, and I’m going to vote for their interests and vote to override.”

Several legislators expressed concern about the effect of cuts to the university on the state’s future.

Anchorage Republican Rep. Jennifer Johnston quoted a 1986 speech by Gov. Wally Hickel.

“We used to say, ‘Let’s go.’ Now we say, ‘Give me.’ We used to say, ‘North to the Future.’ Now we ask, ‘Do we have a future?’” Johnston said.

Some lawmakers said Dunleavy is prioritizing having $3,000 permanent fund dividends this year. But Anchorage Democratic Sen. Bill Wielechowski said the vetoes didn’t touch one area that could balance the budget: the oil tax credits deducted by the major producers.

“These vetoes cut from the poor, the sick, our seniors, our kids — basically anyone who can’t afford to hire a lobbyist to come down here and lobby us. That’s who was cut,” Wielechowski said. “Who wasn’t cut? Some of the richest corporations in the history of the world.”

Rep. Tammie Wilson, a Republican from North Pole, is shown speaking before a vote to override Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget vetoes at the state Capitol in Juneau, Alaska, on Wednesday, July 10, 2019. Wilson was the only vote against the override, which failed on a 37-1 vote; 45 votes were needed to override the vetoes. About third of Alaska lawmakers were absent from the Juneau session, choosing to meet in Wasilla instead. (Michael Penn/Juneau Empire via AP)

North Pole Republican Rep. Tammie Wilson was the only lawmaker present to vote against overriding all of the vetoes.

“Although I don’t support vetoing all of these items in total, I am 100% into compromise, working together with everyone, coming up with a plan that works best for Alaskans,” she said.

Wilson was in Wasilla on Monday. She was the only lawmaker who traveled from Wasilla to Juneau for Wednesday’s vote. Leaders of the legislators who stayed in Wasilla also have said they opposed overriding all 182 line-item vetoes with a single vote.

What happens next?

Friday is the deadline for a legislative vote to override the vetoes. No plans have been announced for another vote. Without more legislators coming to Juneau, any further override votes would likely be symbolic.

It appears there are two possible ways to get lawmakers in one place for the special session: a compromise or a court case. A potential location for a compromise could be Anchorage.

But a lawsuit filed by former North Pole Republican Rep. Al Vezey filed on Wednesday also could resolve the issue. The lawsuit contends the Juneau session isn’t legitimate. It won’t mean much for the overrides with time running out, but it may lead the courts to resolve where the proper location for the session is.

The lawmakers in Wasilla can’t take action because they don’t have a majority in either chamber to hold a meeting. Veto opponents protested there on Wednesday. Tegan Hanlon of the Anchorage Daily News shared videos from Wasilla Middle School on social media, with protesters chanting, “Forty-five to override!” The lawmakers in Wasilla left after a quick meeting.

While there won’t be a formal way to override the vetoes after Friday, there may be another path to restoring funding for some line items.

House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt has raised the possibility of funding individual items in a separate bill. And Soldotna Republican Sen. Peter Micciche wrote in a commentary posted on the website of the Kenai radio station KSRM that while he opposed an up-or-down vote on every veto, “there are also individual vetos I do not support (such as senior benefits, impacts on the disabled and seniors, a significant portion of the university reduction and others).”

Micciche has an excused absence from the Legislature to commercially fish, and he hasn’t shown up in either location.

It’s not clear how receptive Dunleavy would be to large-scale changes to the vetoes. If the Legislature passes more funding in another bill, it’s not clear if Dunleavy would veto it — and if he did, how the lawmakers aligned with him would respond.

Another area of uncertainty is the funding for items that were not in the line-item vetoes, like power cost equalization, medical education and college scholarships and grants.

They aren’t funded because the budget planned to draw on accounts that the Dunleavy administration may determine will be swept into the Constitutional Budget Reserve. The CBR is difficult to access, requiring three-quarters of both the Senate and House to agree. But it may be somewhat easier for the Legislature to build a consensus to fund these items than it would be to fund the items that were vetoed. If this were to happen, it would also have to be done in a separate bill.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Conservative Party leader travels to Yukon, outlines vision for Northern Canada, CBC News

Finland: Finland’s new gov breezes through no-confidence vote over its agenda, Yle News

Sweden: Swedish Centre Party promises tax break for rural northerners, Radio Sweden

United States: Alaska governor says permanent fund dividend formula must be approved by popular vote, Alaska Public Media

Andrew Kitchenman, Alaska Public Media & KTOO - Juneau

For more news from Alaska visit Alaska Public Media.

Do you want to report an error or a typo? Click here!

Leave a Reply

Note: By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that Radio Canada International has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Radio Canada International does not endorse any of the views posted. Your comments will be pre-moderated and published if they meet netiquette guidelines.
Netiquette »

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *