Alaska Lawmakers in Turmoil as Bid to Override Budget Vetoes Fails

Grammy-winning rock band Portugal. The Man plays a set at a veto-override rally in Anchorage at the University of Alaska on July 9. (Julie St. Louis / CNS)

ANCHORAGE (CN) – More than just forests are burning in Alaska right now, after Governor Mike Dunleavy used his veto pen to slash and burn $444 million from the state budget, including essential services to education, arts and senior citizens, and the Legislature failed Wednesday to come up with the 45 votes needed to override.

On Tuesday, Grammy-winning rock band Portugal. The Man flew in on short notice to play a set at a veto override rally on the University of Alaska, Anchorage, campus hosted by a group called Save Our State. The university system faces a 41% cut if Dunleavy’s line-item vetoes stand.

Founding band members Zachary Carothers and Eric Howk say they got their start thanks to music and arts programs provided by the public schools in their hometown of Wasilla, located about 35 miles from Anchorage.

In an unprecedented twist, Wasilla is where the recently elected Dunleavy chose to call to order a second special session of the Legislature to work out a budget impasse that could not be resolved during the 121-day regular session.

State law allows the governor to pick the location, but lawmakers say the Alaska Constitution overrules statute and allows them to choose to meet in the regular location in Juneau, the state’s capital.

Dunleavy said in a statement that he chose Wasilla because it is on the road system and more accessible for Alaskans to attend.

Opposing lawmakers say it would have cost the state more to meet at the Wasilla Middle School than in their regular chambers or even in alternate chambers in Anchorage. Many say the Republican governor’s choice has more to do with the area’s support of his efforts to pay out a $3,000 permanent fund dividend rather than $1,600.

(Julie St. Louis / CNS)

The annual dividend from oil revenues given to all state residents is what divides lawmakers, and it also vexed former Governor Bill Walker who chose to pay a reduced amount to plug holes in the state coffers during the ongoing budget shortfall.

Dunleavy ran his campaign on a promise to restore the full dividend amount and has used his veto pen to line out 182 items he says will allow a full payout and balance the budget.

With 22 Republicans absent from the state capitol – many choosing to go to Wasilla – the override effort in Juneau failed 37-1, allowing Dunleavy to transmit a signed $1.2 billion 2020 budget The lone “no” vote came from Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole.

“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,” Dunleavy said in a statement.

“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 and safety projects receive funding.”

Nearly $1 billion in federal funding remains at stake until the Legislature appropriates matching state funds, leaving future statewide transportation and infrastructure projects on hold indefinitely. Until the issue of where to conduct the special session is resolved, the Legislature remains deeply divided both physically and figuratively.

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