Lawmakers meeting in Juneau fall short of budget veto override, another vote planned
Dunleavy Signs Narrow Capital Budget, Urges Legislature to Complete Unfinished Business and Find Adequate Funding Sources
By MARY KAUFFMAN
July 10, 2019
However with 22 legislative members in Wasilla where the Special Session was called to meet on Monday, the Juneau legislators' vote today failed to meet the constitutional 45-vote threshold required to override the governor's vetoes.
Senator Tom Begich (D-Anchorage) in a prepared statement said on Monday, “We do not work for the Governor. We represent the people of Alaska. It is unfortunate and disappointing that some lawmakers did not show up for work today. The Governor has created an unnecessary crisis when we should be focused on the future of this state and overriding these unnecessary vetoes. We must work together across caucus and party lines to do what is best for Alaska. Those of us who have come to Juneau, agree that the vetoes should be overridden. Our Capitol has the ability to conduct and conclude business cost-efficiently and is accessible to the statewide public. "
Begich called upon every lawmaker to come to Juneau and put politics aside. “There are three branches of government: the Executive, the Legislature, and the Judiciary. The leadership of our branch has issued a call to meet in Juneau, and we should respect the call of our leaders. Juneau is the location we are constitutionally obligated to have this special session.” Although the leadership acknowledged they were one vote short of the forty vote threshold required to call themselves into their own special session agenda.
Representative David Eastman (R-Wasilla) blogged on July 8th, "When a majority of legislators voted against distribution of this year’s PFD, and then followed up by voting to pay retroactive per diem to legislators, Governor Dunleavy responded by exercising his authority under state law to call them back into session in a location where most legislators are legally prevented from collecting per diem."
Eastman continued, "This same group of legislators immediately tried to gather the number of votes necessary to change the location of the legislative session back to a place where they would be authorized to continue to collect per diem ($302 per day). However, after falling short on multiple attempts, they eventually gave up trying to convince their fellow legislators to vote to change the location."
Governor Dunleavy called the legislature into a second special session on July 8th in Wasilla to pay a full statutory Permanent Fund Dividend and expanded the call to include a capital budget once the Legislature can resolve where it will conduct business.
Following legislative gridlock on the Permanent Fund Dividend throughout a 121-day regular session and month-long special session, Governor Michael J. Dunleavy on June 13, 2019 issued a proclamation calling the Alaska Legislature into special session to provide for a full PFD as outlined in Alaska statute. The special session proclamation called lawmakers into session in Wasilla beginning July 8, 2019.
“While the legislature has avoided a no budget scenario, their work is not finished until they provide Alaskans with a full PFD outlined by statute. Today [June 13, 2019] I am calling a second special session in Wasilla so lawmakers can complete their work and follow the law,” said Governor Dunleavy. “At this point, a change in venue is necessary to refocus the conversation and remind lawmakers about the people and their PFD. Once the issue of the PFD is solved, these other budgetary issues will fall into place quickly.”
In June, Governor Dunleavy said, “Our focus has been on bringing the people and legislature together on the PFD. But instead of convening in Wasilla, legislative leadership is attempting to retreat back to Juneau. This move to negate the special session in Wasilla has no legal basis. A governor is clearly empowered to call a special session in a location of their choosing (AS 24.05.100).” Dunleavy said, “The Senate President and Speaker of the House admit they lack the votes to change the venue or call a special session of their own, yet they are committed to thwarting the law and the voice of the Alaskan people. This is all part of why Alaskans have lost trust in their lawmakers. How can we with a straight face expect people to follow the law when the legislative leadership ignores, breaks, and skirts the law at every turn?”
However, on June 24th Alaska House and Senate leadership announced their intention to return to the isolation of Juneau for a second special session beginning July 8th. In a memo issued by the House Speaker and Senate President, legislative leaders stated that they planned to ignore the location on the governor’s call and instead convene away from the Mat-Su Valley although one vote short of the forty vote threshold required to call themselves into their own special session agenda.
Regardless, House Speaker Bryce Edgmon (D to I-Dillingham) and Senate President Cathy Giessel (R-Anchorage) stated in a joint news release dated June 24th, “Although we are one vote short of the forty vote threshold to call ourselves into our own special session agenda, the majority of legislators in both bodies considers it our right to determine the location and venue best equipped to conduct business on the Governor’s special session call, while providing the most access to as many Alaskans possible."
After the announcement House Minority Leader Rep. Lance Pruitt (R-Anchorage) said, “The fact that legislative leadership plans to run away from the Mat-Su Valley back to their hiding places in Juneau is extremely illuminating.” Pruitt said, “The legislative leadership has already tried to have these conversations on the budget, PFD, and education in the dark back rooms of far-away Alaska; they haven’t found answers. Now, we should be having these conversations in full view of the public.”
Quoting an Alaska House Majority Coalition news release whose members chose to meet in Juneau rather than Wasilla, "Alaska is on the brink of a self-inflicted economic recession as a result of the $444 million in vetoes. Among the many impacts of the 182 vetoes, the University of Alaska could lose accreditation and be forced to close a campus. Payments that amount to more than 25 percent of income for hundreds of our most financially vulnerable elders have been suspended. Grants that pay service organizations to help dying people bathe, cook, and get to medical appointments have been suspended. All of those decisions could be reversed by the Legislature."
“The Legislature can still act to restore essential services, and we are committed to fighting until this is resolved,” House Speaker Bryce Edgmon (I-Dillingham) said today. “These are not partisan decisions: Democrats, Republicans, and Independents from the House and Senate voted together today. We must stand together for Alaska.”
According to the Alaska House Majority Coalition, legislators who were not in attendance in Juneau today for the vote to override the governor's vetoes will, however, have another opportunity to represent their districts by voting on this issue during a joint floor session that is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. Thursday. Apparently in Juneau.
Defend the Sacred AK, Alaska Rising Tide, Fireweed Collective, Alaskans Take a Stand, Native Movement, and the Poor People’s Campaign supported the Wasilla protesters. Quoting a news release, "Deeply concerned with Governor Dunleavy’s budget vetoes, Alaskans gathered today at Wasilla Middle School to protest the legislators' refusal to participate in a productive dialogue with their colleagues. 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 182 line-item vetoes to eliminate at least $444 million from the operating budget do not uphold the duty of government laid out by the Alaskan constitution. By using executive power, Governor Dunleavy sets a dangerous precedent for future governors. Specifically, the protest today is focused on rejecting the cuts which benefit large corporations at the expense of working Alaskans. This places oil companies profits in direct competition with Alaska’s PFD. We are demanding legislators to choose Alaskans to do their job, represent their constituents, take a vote, and value people over these oil companies. These cuts are already placing Alaskan lives at risk by defunding the senior benefits program, raising rates at our pioneer homes, and defunding Medicaid and homeless programs. These cuts will force Alaska’s economy back into a recession, just as we’re making our way out of the past one, threaten job stability, cut thousands of jobs, and decrease the ability for small businesses to operate successfully." stated the news release.
According to the supporters of the protesters - some of whom were chained to the front door of Wasilla Middle School - this nonviolent direct action was planned because concerned Alaskans want to remind elected officials of our power as the people who voted them into office. It is the responsibility of our legislators to do their job and represent us in the Capitol.
The protest was described by Senator Shelly Hughes in a Face Book post: "Hecklers opposed to budget reductions rushed and took legislators’ seats today on the floor. Here’s what happened. We met today for our technical gathering in Wasilla. Sen. David Wilson had returned from his work trip and joined the group here today. Unfortunately when he led us in the pledge and Rep. Sharon Jackson led us in the opening prayer, protesters against the budget reductions yelled loudly the entire time and a number rushed onto the floor in an unruly fashion into empty seats designated for legislators. We remained calm and professional throughout, continuing to follow the law and uphold our representative republic that is based on the constitution, which, btw, is what guarantees the freedom of speech expressed today. Ironic that some in Juneau were worried about the PFD supporters being rude in Wasilla - and yet they were extremely calm and civil while this group took a different approach. "
At the request of Senate Majority Leader Mia Costello and House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, Governor Dunleavy announced on July 5th that he would amend the call for the Second Special Session to include items pertaining to the capital budget when the Alaska State Legislature convened in Wasilla on Monday because the current work on the capital budget is incomplete, failing to include an adequate funding source and leaving more than $1 billion of federal transportation dollars on the table.
Wednesday, the governor transmitted a narrow Fiscal Year 2020 capital budget, sending a message to the Legislature that – by failing to capture more than a billion dollars in federal infrastructure dollars and to provide an adequate funding source – their work thus far constitutes an incomplete.
“Unfortunately, the capital budget I received back from the legislature lacked the support needed to fully fund projects and programs critical to the development of Alaska,” wrote Governor Dunleavy in a letter to the Legislature today. “I look forward to a swift resolution on the 2019 Permanent Fund Dividend, so the legislature can quickly move on to fully funding a capital budget to support jobs and families across Alaska, and ensure Federal funds are not forfeited and critical road, infrastructure, and life, health safety projects receive funding.”
The FY 2020 capital budget totals nearly $1.202 billion, including $58.4 million in general funds; however, lacks the proper funding sources due to the legislature’s inability to reach consensus. Nearly $1 billion in federal funding remains at stake until the legislature appropriates state matching funds, leaving future statewide transportation and infrastructure projects on hold indefinitely.
In a transmittal letter to the legislature, Governor Dunleavy urges the legislature to provide a fully funded capital budget using appropriate funding sources once the statutory dividend is approved, click here to read.
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