A veto override vote Wednesday was always going to fail.
With only 14 senators and 24 representatives in attendance, there weren’t enough lawmakers at the Capitol Wednesday afternoon to undo Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s over $400 million in budget vetoes. However, while short of 45 votes, legislators opted to hold a symbolic vote that resulted in a 37-1 vote in favor of an override.
“We have to push back and say enough is enough,” said Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks. “We have to tell the governor that we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it any more.”
That line drew applause from the legislators in the House chambers.
Dunleavy’s vetoes which would result in reduced funding for the University of Alaska, the elimination of the Alaska State Council on the Arts, cutting school bond debt reimbursement in half among other slashes, were roundly panned by lawmakers.
They attacked from the left, center and right.
Andi Story, D-Juneau, was among the lawmakers who compared the vetoes to a man-made natural disaster.
“We have a chance to stop this tidal wave of destruction,” Story said.
But the critique was bipartisan and bicameral.
“I am a true fiscal conservative, and I don’t take criticizing our governor lightly,” said Rep. Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage. “Sometimes you have to spend money now to avoid paying much more money later.”
She said while $3,000 Alaska Permanent Fund dividends may be good politics, it would be “really, really bad” policy.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, said the vetoes are “soulless, mean-spirited and game-playing.”
Begich and Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, also opined that it is wrong to tie conversations about the PFD to the budget.
“He (Dunleavy) has yet to present a plan that has mathematical integrity that gets you a $3,000 PFD,” Kreiss-Tomkins said.
Begich said he does not believe the governor has any intent to negotiate on the vetoes.
There was one vote against the override, from Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole.
While Wilson was the lone vote against overrides, she was lightly critical of the governor’s vetoes and said her vote should not be misconstrued as widespread support for all 182 line-item vetoes. Instead, she made the case for analyzing them one by one to find room for compromise.
Wilson also joined other lawmakers in calling for the Legislature to unify in one location — 22 lawmakers remained absent for Wednesday’s decisive vote with some appearing in photographs with the governor in Wasilla while the joint session went on.
While Wilson said she did not care if they convened in Wasilla or Juneau, other legislators were much more pointed.
“This is the seat of government,” said Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, during a press conference.
Others said they were troubled that lawmakers representing a combined population of over 200,000 were not present for such a critical vote.
“I’m sad because there’s not enough people in this room, these override votes are largely symbolic,” said Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage. “I’m sad that there are a group of people that got distracted by the red herring, by the bait and switch, that was put forth by our governor. The result will be a human-made disaster unless we find a way to do better by Alaskans.”
The hope is there will be more lawmakers present Thursday, said caucus leaders during press conferences following the joint session.
There is another joint session scheduled for 10:30 a.m. that would offer a chance for the Legislature to rescind their failed vote and re-vote on the matter.
Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, and House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham each said they’re unsure if that will happen.
But Giessel said the time was chosen specifically to allow lawmakers to make their way to the Capitol after a morning flight to Juneau.
“We’re giving them every opportunity,” Giessel said.
What happens next?
In the immediate future, there will be an attempt to rescind and re-vote.
However, Edgmon said rescinding the vote would take the same 45-vote super majority as an override.
Unless lawmakers do make it to Juneau from Wasilla on evening or morning flights, that’s not going to happen.
If those efforts fail, both Edgmon and Begich alluded to other avenues legislators may take.
“We’re not done fighting,” Edgmon said.
Begich said he never declares this sort of war over until every last option has been exhausted.
Edgmon said the hope would be to somehow address concerns via other appropriation bills — the capital budget and the bill establishing the PFD.
However, while he said it’s hoped those could help with negotiations, he did not specify what may be proposed or pursued.
Begich said there’s been some talk of attaching a new budget to the capital budget, but he does not believe that would be a successful effort.
Von Imhof insisted during a press conference on the importance of Wednesday’s attempt to rescind and re-vote as being the last realistic attempt to address the vetoes.
“This is it,” she said. “There is not another option. It ends Friday.”
• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.