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Alaska Legislature

Q&A: Understanding the Alaska Legislature’s dual special sessions

(ADN file)

Q: What happens Monday?

A: Monday is the scheduled start of the Alaska Legislature’s second special session, called by Gov. Mike Dunleavy. About a third of the Legislature’s 60 members are expected to be in Wasilla, where the governor has said the Legislature should meet. The rest, including the leaders of the House and Senate, will be in Juneau.

The group in Juneau has enough members to begin the session, and meetings have been scheduled to consider the Permanent Fund dividend. The group in Wasilla will have speeches and an unofficial meeting.

Q: Why are they in two separate places?

A: Most of the Legislature believes the governor can call the time and date of a special session, and set the agenda, but not set the location. A smaller group, more in line with the governor on other issues, believes the governor can do so.

The larger group says meeting in Juneau is cheaper. The group also says Juneau is more accessible to the public because meetings in the Capitol are wired for TV and Internet streaming, even if it’s more difficult to reach physically. Some lawmakers also believe the governor chose Wasilla for plain political reasons (it’s his hometown and home to his base of support). At least one lawmaker has also said they will not show up if the special session takes place in Wasilla, because they don’t feel safe there.

Q: What’s at stake?

A: If the Legislature doesn’t act, there will be no Permanent Fund dividend this year. The state will lose more than a billion dollars in road construction funding. The governor’s veto of $444 million in state programs will stand. Another $323 million in programs will go unfunded. An estimated $1.6 billion in various savings accounts designated to specific programs will be automatically swept into the Constitutional Budget Reserve, leaving no money for things like rural electrical subsidies.

Q: Why is this happening?

A: Disagreement over the Permanent Fund dividend is largely driving the impasse.

The group meeting in Wasilla supports the governor’s belief that the state should pay a traditional Permanent Fund dividend this year. Most (but not all) of the group meeting in Juneau believes the amount should be less, because using the traditional formula requires overspending from the Permanent Fund or taking money from savings.

The governor has thus far declined to allow the Legislature to consider the entire capital budget. He believes lawmakers should approve a traditional dividend first. (He has said he would allow lawmakers to consider part of the capital budget if they meet in Wasilla.)

The Legislature needs 40 votes to change the agenda of the special session without the governor’s approval. There will be fewer than 40 lawmakers meeting in Juneau.

The Legislature needs 45 votes to finish work on the capital budget. It also needs 45 votes to override any of the governor’s budget vetoes. The legislators in Wasilla are unwilling to consider voting on the capital budget unless the Juneau group approves a traditional dividend. The Juneau group isn’t willing to do that.

The dividing lines on veto overrides are more complicated, but those meeting in Juneau are generally more in favor of overriding some or all of the governor’s decisions.

Q: Who is on each side?

A: The latest tally on Sunday indicates 19 legislators will be in Wasilla and twice that will be in Juneau.

The 15-member Republican House minority and six Republican members of the Alaska Senate majority support the Wasilla group, as will the House’s independent Republican, Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage.

The 24 members of the coalition House majority, the six members of the Democratic Senate minority, and eight of the Senate majority’s members are expected to be in Juneau.

A handful of lawmakers will be absent. Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, and Rep. George Rauscher, R-Sutton, have been excused for various reasons. Otherwise, they would be in Wasilla.

Q: What can I do?

A: Contact your legislator by phone or email. Lawmakers have repeatedly said they are listening to public input. A rally in support of the traditional dividend will take place at 11 a.m. Monday in Wasilla’s Newcomb Park. A competing “Protest Dunleavy” rally will take place at noon in front of Wasilla Middle School. In Juneau, a rally in favor of budget veto overrides will take place at noon in front of the Capitol. There’s also a “Save Our State” rally Tuesday evening at the Alaska Airlines Center on the University of Alaska Anchorage campus.

Q: What happens next?

A: The governor could deem the Juneau meeting illegitimate and file lawsuits against legislators to compel them to go to Wasilla. A private citizen or group could also file a lawsuit along the same grounds.

On the opposite side, lawmakers in Juneau could use legislative rules to compel those in Wasilla to attend a Juneau session.

Legislators are expected to introduce a bill for a $1,600 Permanent Fund dividend on Monday.

The Legislature has five days to override the governor’s budget vetoes, or his decision stands. The University of Alaska Board of Regents has already scheduled a July 15 meeting to take action regardless of the decision.

If there is no agreement on the capital budget by the end of July, the state may lose out on almost $900 million in federal matching funds for road construction. If there is no agreement on the dividend by the end of August, it may be difficult for the state to pay it on time.

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