House asks Senate for joint session on overrides

JUNEAU — The Alaska House has asked the Senate to meet in joint session to consider potential overrides of vetoes made by Gov. Bill Walker, Speaker Mike Chenault said Wednesday.

The Nikiski Republican said he sent a letter to Senate President Kevin Meyer asking for a joint session Friday.

Chenault said he’s not sure where the votes might be to try to override any particular veto. But he said there’s enough interest on his side to at least hold a session to consider potential overrides.

Forty-five lawmakers, three-fourths of the Legislature, are needed to override any veto.

The Senate on Monday decided to wait to see whether a joint session invitation would come from the House rather than initiating one. The Senate is not scheduled to meet again until Friday.

Suzanne Cunningham, Meyer’s chief of staff, said his office had received the letter. Meyer is traveling but plans to be in Juneau on Thursday and is continuing to talk with his members, she said.

Walker vetoed nearly $1.3 billion from the budget, largely from limiting the amount available for Alaska Permanent Fund dividends and for oil and gas tax credits. Deferral on tax credit payments could bloat that obligation to more than $1 billion next year.

The Legislature in passing the budget provided enough money for a status quo dividend of about $2,000. The Senate later passed legislation that would limit dividends to about $1,000 for the next three years. That bill, the centerpiece of Walker’s fiscal plan, faltered in the House during the last special session.

It calls for use of permanent fund earnings to help pay for state government and changes how future dividends would be calculated. Money drawn from earnings would be based on a percentage of the fund’s market value.

In a floor speech Monday, Republican Rep. Tammie Wilson of North Pole said she came to Juneau wanting an override of Walker’s action reducing the dividend appropriation.

“I am really disappointed that our governor decided that one of the biggest cuts he needed to make was to the people of Alaska,” she said.

House Minority Leader Chris Tuck said his Democratic-led caucus would like to see Walker’s spending reductions to education and the university system reversed. Caucus members generally also would like to see the dividend reduction overturned until a long-term solution is in place, but it’s tough to see reaching 45 votes on any one item, he said.

Democrats want to address oil taxes and have balked at use of permanent fund earnings as the first or only option for addressing the deficit. Republican legislative leaders have shown little interest in igniting a new oil tax fight.

Walker’s new tax credit bill would raise the minimum tax on North Slope oil when oil prices are above $55 a barrel, but Democrats have sought more sweeping changes.

Walker has warned that failure to act on a plan to address the multibillion-dollar state deficit would imperil the dividend program. He has asked legislators to reconsider the permanent fund bill during the current special session. He also has proposed a tax package and additional changes to the oil tax credit program. The only new item for consideration is a proposed sales and use tax.

“How we deal with this crisis will define us all, with no less than Alaska’s future hanging in the balance,” Walker said in a release Wednesday. He said he expects, and Alaskans should demand, compromise and action by lawmakers on a comprehensive fiscal plan.

Some people may think the Legislature hasn’t done its job while some may think it has, Chenault said.

“While there may be a disagreement, sometimes taking no action is an action. Not everyone agrees with what the governor has to say,” he said.

Chenault said he met with members of Walker’s administration Wednesday. “We’ll continue to talk and try to figure out a way to move forward,” he said.

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