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Alaska Legislature

The latest: With 22 lawmakers absent, Alaska Legislature fails to override Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget vetoes

  • Author: Anchorage Daily News
  • Updated: July 10
  • Published July 10

Note: This story has been updated here.

We’ll be posting updates throughout the day from Juneau and Wasilla as Alaska lawmakers consider whether to override Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s $444 million in budget vetoes. The latest updates will be on top. Full coverage here.

From James Brooks in Juneau —

With 22 Republicans absent from the state Capitol, the Alaska Legislature on Wednesday failed to garner 45 votes to override Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s decision to veto $444 million from the state operating budget.

The final vote was 37-1, with a “yes” vote in favor of a veto override. The lone “no” vote came from Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole.

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)

While Wednesday’s vote likely means the governor’s decision has been upheld by the Legislature, lawmakers have until 11:59 p.m. Friday to conduct a re-vote if they so wish.

Legislators could also restore lost funding by including it in another funding bill, but lawmakers do not currently have enough support to call a special session of their own in order to propose such legislation.

Before the final vote, lawmakers warned of grave consequences if the vetoes are allowed to take effect.

“They would inflict incredible pain, suffering and even premature death on Alaskans,” said Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage, referring to vetoes affecting services for senior Alaskans and the homeless.

In Anchorage and elsewhere, nonprofits have warned that homeless shelters will be forced to close or greatly reduce services, leaving more Alaskans to live on the streets of the state’s largest city.

The biggest veto among the governor’s cuts is $130 million trimmed from the budget of the University of Alaska. That figure amounts to 41% of the university’s state support, and university officials have warned that the cut will lead to reductions in tuition revenue and federal grants, further increasing the loss.

“It is going to eviscerate the university as we know it,” said Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks.

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)

Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, warned that global scientific research will suffer.

“I got emails from France, scientists over there saying the University of Alaska is the leader in climate-change research. I received the same thing from Algeria, saying Alaska is the Arctic university, and with these reductions, it will no longer be the Arctic university. The important work that they do will go away,” he said.

Other lawmakers worried about broader effects from cuts that will affect Alaskans across the state.

“I cannot fathom why the governor is purposely throwing Alaska into a severe economic recession,” said Sen. Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage.

Voting yes in Juneau: Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham; House Majority Leader Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks; Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage; Rep. Harriet Drummond, D-Anchorage; Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage; Rep. Neal Foster, D-Nome; Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau; Rep. Grier Hopkins, D-Fairbanks; Rep. Jennifer Johnston, R-Anchorage; Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage; Rep. Gary Knopp, R-Kenai; Rep. Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage; Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka; Rep. Bart LeBon, R-Fairbanks; Rep. John Lincoln, D-Kotzebue; Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan; Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage; Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau; Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak; Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage; Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage; Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks; Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky, D-Bethel.

Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage; Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, D-Anchorage; Sen. Chris Birch, R-Anchorage; Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks; Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole; Sen. Elvi Gray-Jackson, D-Anchorage; Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel; Sen. Scott Kawasaki, D-Fairbanks; Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau; Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin; Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka; Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak; Sen. Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage; Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage.

Voting no in Juneau: Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole;

Absent and in Wasilla: House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage; Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski; Rep. David Eastman, R-Wasilla; Rep. Sharon Jackson, R-Eagle River; Rep. DeLena Johnson, R-Palmer; Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage; Rep. Kelly Merrick, R-Eagle River; Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake; Rep. Sara Rasmussen, R-Anchorage; Rep. Josh Revak, R-Anchorage; Rep. Laddie Shaw, R-Anchorage; Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla; Rep. Dave Talerico, R-Healy; Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla; Rep. Sarah Vance, R-Homer.

Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage; Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River; Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla.

Excused absent: Rep. George Rauscher, R-Sutton; Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer; Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna; Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla.

Watch the joint session here, courtesy Gavel Alaska. (Note: The sound is turned off when the body is not in session.)

The veto override debate

From James Brooks in Juneau, 11:30 a.m. —

The Senate is entering the House chambers for the joint session. The galleries are mostly filled with somber observers and a handful of tourists watching with some puzzlement. There are no protests.

There are 24 House members and 14 senators here.

Sen. Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage: “I cannot fathom why the governor is purposely throwing Alaska into a severe economic recession.”

“I may be a slow learner, but even I know that giving out a $3,000 dividend is smart politics ... but really, really bad policy.”

“The argument of the location … is a diversion. It’s a red herring to mask the real issues that we are facing today.”

Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel: “The people of Alaska are standing in uproar across the state like I’ve never seen it before.”

Sen. Chris Birch, R-Anchorage, in support of overriding the vetoes" “I defend my work over the past six months. I defend the budget we presented.”

Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage: “I guess we’re in a race toward the bottom with Mississippi and Arkansas, with all respect to those two great states.”

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage: “Who wasn’t cut? Some of the richest corporations in the history of the world. These vetoes don’t take one penny from the oil industry which makes billions of dollars in profits in Alaska every year.”

“Guess what, senior benefits is the law in this state, and it is being broken with this veto. ... People talk about keeping the trust? This is all about breaking promises with these vetoes.”

Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorasge, on the abortion veto: “He is trying to punish them for exercising their independence, and we should never stand for that.”

“We must stand tall as a separate branch of government and recognize that the strength and independence of the judiciary is just as important as the strength and independence of this body.”

Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, speaking of cuts to the University of Alaska: "These are devastating. These are unprecedented. Undoubtedly you will end up with an enormous raising of tuition."

Stevens turns the governor’s “open for business” slogan on its head: “Just the opposite. It is saying Alaska is not open for business,” he said.

Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, was the lone voice in favor of the vetoes, saying that she’s opposed because it’s one bloc.

“We could take these vetoes, and we could go one by one through our finance committees, and we could talk about whether there’s a better step-down approach.”

Elvi Gray-Jackson, D-Anchorage: “We are now faced with a governor who is proposing policies that are simply an assault on everything we know and love about our state.”

Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage: “These override votes today are largely symbolic. I’m sad that there are a group of people who got distracted by the red herring, by the bait and switch that was put forth by our governor. The result will essentially be a human-made disaster unless we find a way to do better by Alaskans.”

Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks: “It is going to eviscerate the university as we know it.”

Rep. Zack Fields, D-Anchorage: “They would inflict incredible pain, suffering and even premature death on Alaskans.”

Earlier posts:

As veto vote nears in Juneau, pro-override protesters take over legislative meeting in Wasilla

Wasilla special session hijacked by protesters as legislators took to the floor in middle school gym on Wednesday, July 10, 2019.

From Tegan Hanlon in Wasilla —

A group of protesters seized legislators’ seats at the Wasilla Middle School gym at 11 a.m. Wednesday as lawmakers walked into the room. When legislators moved to the other side of the gym, the protesters moved with them.

They called on lawmakers to go to Juneau, chanting, "45 to override!”

The group of lawmakers sang “Amazing Grace” and said a prayer, and after a few minutes walked out of the gym. As they left, protesters chanted, "Don’t hide! Override!”

It was a chaotic few minutes in the middle school. About two dozen protesters remained in the gym until shortly after 12 p.m. They sang and drummed before exiting outside.

The protest was supported by Defend the Sacred AK, Alaska Rising Tide, Fireweed Collective, Alaskans Take a Stand, Native Movement, and the Poor People’s Campaign, according to a statement from the groups.

"Wasilla is an illegitimate, inadequate, and expensive meeting location for legislative activities, creating a political impasse instead of doing their job, representing Alaskans. Legislators need to return to Juneau to vote to override the vetoes,” the statement said.

Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, said the protest was disruptive.

"We were here today, we were ready to do our business, it’s the only call, it’s the legitimate call, and it was unfortunate that they stormed the legislative floor,” she said. "This is the Alaska State Legislature trying to take action and showing that we are ready to do the work of the people, and it was disruptive.”

Costello said the legislators would be back in Wasilla on Thursday. The group of protesters said they’d also be back and hoped to talk with lawmakers.

Earlier:

A couple dozen protesters gathered outside of Wasilla Middle School Wednesday morning, including four chained to some of the doors.

Protesters supporting a veto override stand outside Wasilla Middle School on Wednesday, July 10, 2019. (Bill Roth / ADN)
Protesters wore chains as they blocked doors at Wasilla Middle School before the legislative special session on Wednesday, July 10, 2019. (Bill Roth / ADN)

A majority held signs calling on overrides and telling legislators to “do your jobs.” Another group held signs calling for a full PFD.

“We are out here as a group of taxpaying citizens demanding that our legislators quit this spectacle and go back to Juneau and do their jobs,” said Justina Beagnyam, 32 of Anchorage. “45 to override!” her sign read.

Another read: “No kangaroo court! Go to Juneau! #45tooverride”

Legislators spoke with protesters as they walked into the middle school. From some, they heard concerns about cuts.

Bruce Wayne, 57 of Wasilla, said he supports the cuts and favors a $3,000 PFD. “Stand Tall Save the PFD,” read his sign.

“That full PFD can help the people who are actually struggling,” he said.

As veto vote nears, statewide poll paid for by UA Foundation suggests most Alaskans favor override

Hundreds attend a rally in front of the Capitol, calling for an override of Gov. Mike Dunleavy's budget vetos on the first day of the Second Special Session of the Alaska Legislature in Juneau on Monday, July 8, 2019. (Michael Penn/Juneau Empire via AP)

From James Brooks in Juneau:

Good morning from Juneau, where we’re looking ahead to a joint House-Senate vote today on overriding the governor’s vetoes. We’ll be posting updates through the day, so check back.

That vote will take place at 11:30 a.m. and will be broadcast on TV via Gavel Alaska (available over the air and GCI cable) and streamed online at 360North.org.

Overnight, the University of Alaska Foundation released the results of an opinion poll commissioned by the Cromer Group, a national firm. The poll was fielded July 1-2 and reached 600 registered voters statewide by landline telephone and cellphone. (Opinion polls are designed to get a cross-section of statewide sentiment, weighted toward actual demographics.)

The poll indicated that 59% of Alaskans would advise their state legislator to support a veto override, 16% would advise them to oppose an override, and 25% don’t know.

About the veto of $130 million from the University of Alaska in particular, the poll found 61% of respondents strongly or somewhat opposed to the veto, 24% strongly or somewhat supportive, and 15% uncertain.

Cromer has performed several opinion polls in Alaska before this one; the most recent was commissioned in March, following the release of the governor’s budget proposal.

At that time, 67% of respondents said they were very worried or somewhat worried about the governor’s plan. The latest poll indicates 70% now fall into those two categories.

More broadly, 53% of respondents said they feel the state is going down the wrong track, up from 50% in March and 35% in January 2018.

A poll commissioned in October 2016, after then-Gov. Bill Walker’s decision to veto a portion of the Permanent Fund dividend, found 61% of Alaskans believed Alaska was going down the wrong track.

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