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Alaska Legislature

Gov. Dunleavy erased $444 million from Alaska’s operating budget. What happens now?

JUNEAU — In the aftermath of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s sweeping line-item vetoes of the state operating budget, some — including the University of Alaska and the Anchorage mayor — are calling on the state Legislature to step in and reverse the governor’s funding cuts.

But what can lawmakers actually do?

There are three main options that could play out when the Legislature’s second special session begins July 8.

Option 1: Override all of Dunleavy’s vetoes

In a single vote, the Legislature overturns all of the governor’s 182 vetoes. Meeting in joint session between the House and the Senate, it would take 45 out of 60 legislators (three-fourths) to overturn all $444 million of the governor’s vetoes in one bloc.

This would have to happen by the end of the fifth day of the special session, July 12, according to a deadline in the state constitution. If lawmakers override all of Dunleavy’s vetoes, the budget then moves forward with only the cuts approved by the Legislature earlier this year.

This scenario is unlikely, according to some legislators. Even though a majority of the Alaska Legislature appears to oppose at least some of the vetoes, they need consensus by three-fourths of the body, not half, and that’s a high bar to reach. Earlier this year, a three-quarter vote to fund the capital budget failed in the House.

Enough lawmakers support the governor’s stated goal — to balance the state budget without cutting the Permanent Fund dividend, spending from savings or raising taxes — to block an override.

Option 2: Override some of the vetoes

Lawmakers go line by line through all 182 vetoes and vote on overturning each one by the July 12 deadline. That could allow lawmakers to reverse particular items that have more support than others. The state’s senior benefits program, defunded by the governor, is one example.

Several lawmakers among those who firmly support Dunleavy’s cuts said they have received calls and questions from concerned constituents about that particular program.

“The senior benefits is definitely the one I’ve been getting questions on the most,” said Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River. “I’m going to look at that one.”

Option 3: Add funding in a different bill (but Dunleavy could veto that, too)

The third option gets complicated. If lawmakers don’t reach the three-quarters hurdle they need for veto overrides by the end of the day July 12, the vetoes stand.

If that happens, legislators could instead choose to add funding in a supplemental budget bill or in the as-yet-unfinished state capital budget.

In a statement Friday, House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, said that is the House minority’s preferred option.

“If our caucus does decide to revisit any of the governor’s reductions, we will do that through the capital budget or a supplemental budget, and not through the process of veto override,” Pruitt wrote.

Neither a capital budget nor a supplemental budget are on the special session’s agenda. Adding them would require lawmakers to end the governor’s special session and convene their own special session (something that requires 40 of the Legislature’s 60 members to agree), or it would require the governor to amend the special session’s agenda.

The governor has said he would be willing to add the capital budget once lawmakers reach agreement on the amount of this year’s Permanent Fund dividend.

The main roadblock to the idea of supplemental funding comes at the end: Any supplemental budget is subject to the governor’s veto.

If the governor disagrees with what the Legislature does, lawmakers could find themselves right back where they started.

Reporter Tegan Hanlon contributed.

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