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Alaska Legislature

As individual Alaskans testify against Dunleavy vetoes, organizations lobby as well

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy reveals his budget vetoes during a press conference Friday, June 28, 2019 at the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau. (James Brooks / ADN)

JUNEAU — As hundreds of individual Alaskans attend town halls and legislative forums across the state to voice their opposition to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget vetoes, organizations and agencies across the state are also joining the fray.

Organizations large and small, as varied as the Alaska Federation of Natives, Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation and the Alaska Bankers Association, have been urging their members to ask legislators to override the governor’s cuts. For groups and individuals alike, time is a critical factor: Assuming the Alaska Legislature convenes in special session on Monday as scheduled, an override vote — either partial or total — will have to take place by the end of the day Friday. If not, the governor’s vetoes stand.

“We’re seeing a lot of groups mobilize that are tangentially involved in the political process but are getting more directly involved,” said Becky Hultberg of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association.

In Anchorage, Catholic Social Services — which operates the Brother Francis Shelter for the homeless — held an emergency board meeting soon after the governor’s announcement, said Tricia Teasley, the organizations development and community relations director.

On the day after the announcement, it warned that homelessness in Anchorage could rise 48% because of the vetoes.

Since then, it has been reaching out to its supporters and encouraging them to contact their legislators.

“It’s kind of like, what can we do now? What’s the fastest thing?” she said. “It’s really getting the word out to the folks who support you and believe in you. It’s multiplying your voice as much as possible, as quickly as possible.”

Laurie Wolf is director of the Foraker Group, which provides training and organization for nonprofits. The week after the governor’s vetoes were announced, Foraker Group held a training session to teach effective lobbying techniques. The teleconference had space for 100 participants, and it filled up entirely, Wolf said.

Afterward, it provided a message template. Among the key messages: “Remember that while you have a specific cause and focus, we need to be in this together. We need to stand strong together for Alaska. Ask for an override of the all the vetoes, not separate votes on each of the 182 line items.”

“I don’t know of an organization that isn’t motivated,” she said. “I haven’t met an organization that doesn’t think this impacts them.”

She compared the situation to a sweater.

“If we pull on (a string), the whole sweater unravels,” she said.

At the Rasmuson Foundation, the state’s largest philanthropic organization, director Diane Kaplan said Alaskans shouldn’t expect private groups to knit things back together.

“There’s no way the private sector in any way is going to be able to have a meaningful impact on cuts of this size,” she said.

She said the contributions of the entire philanthropic sector of Alaska — donations from Rasmuson, BP ConocoPhillips and others — amounts to about $80 million.

“Is that sector going to step up and fill a $130 million gap at the university? No. ... We can’t. We don’t have that kind of money," she said.

In addition to issuing letters and emails, some groups are acting more broadly. A sleep-out protest vigil occupied the Anchorage Park Strip. The Alaska Center and Alaska Community Action on Toxics plan to run phone banks to call legislators’ constituents and urge them to contact their lawmakers. The Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, Perseverance Theatre, Juneau Pro-Choice Coalition, University of Alaska Southeast and Juneau Central Labor Council AFL-CIO are holding a rally in front of the Capitol on Monday.

In a written statement dated July 2, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation wrote, “If you care about healthcare, education, public assistance, public safety and many of the other areas that sustained large budget reductions, I again encourage you to voice your opinion to the governor and your legislators before July 12.”

The governor said June 28 that the vetoes are intended to serve as part of a two-year plan to balance the state’s budget without raising taxes, spending from savings or cutting the Permanent Fund dividend.

Before the vetoes, lawmakers heard an earful from Alaskans who support the governor’s approach. Afterward, that perspective has been drowned by a tide of testimony in favor of cutting the dividend to preserve services.

Speaking Friday, Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, said she intended to keep track of the number of emails supporting and against the governor’s vetoes, but after 300 messages in the first day, gave it up.

“I am hearing 98.5 percent of them saying please override these vetoes,” she said. “It’s been overwhelmingly in favor of an override.”

Partially because of that support, Giessel said she will vote to override.

Ironically, because of the sheer volume of support, it’s been difficult for individual voices to be heard. Patrick Anderson of RurAL CAP, which operates shelters in Anchorage and Head Start programs in rural Alaska, said his organization “is doing pretty much the same thing everyone else is doing. We’re reaching out to legislators who are on the fence.”

“It’s just kind of tough when there’s so many voices out there."

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