Summary: In a repeat of last summer’s special session, the legislature failed to get the 45 votes necessary to override the governor’s vetoes. Opponents of the override said they were sympathetic to the points made by their colleagues and the need to fund those programs, but countered the state was not in a postition to do so.
“It was important that legislators had that opportunity to express their views, and for the public to understand what school bond debt reimbursement veto meant for their communities,” Geissel told reporters in a press conference following the session.
Meeting with reporters after the session, Senate President Giessel said she thought the vote was worth it, even it if failed.
“It’s important to have the discussion,” Giessel said.
The House will come back into session soon to finish some procedural matters, but the voting is done. Senators are heading back to their offices. Statements from Senate President Giessel and House Speaker Bryce Edgmon are forthcoming.
It’s finally time to vote.
Senate votes 13 yeas, 6 nays. House votes 24 yeas, 14 nays. Total: 37 yeas, 20 nays.
The motion fails.
Sen. Shelly Hughes, R-Palmer, says she wants to remind her colleagues about the state’s fiscal situation.
“We have a —One. Point. Five. Billion, dollar deficit,” Hughes says. The overrides would add to that, she says.
“We make lifestyle choices,” Hughes says, “When you chose to live where those no roads you know there’s consequences to that.”
She says she’s going to vote on behalf of her district who want her to vote to reduce the state’s deficit.
Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, R-Anchorage, says she will be voting yes, but it’s going to be a reluctant yes.
“We’ve been here before,” she says, citing previous failed votes to override. She made a reference to the film “Groundhog Day,” where the protagonist relives the same day over and over. Several lawmakers made the same reference in the special session over the summer.
Reinbold says she understands the feelings of her colleagues, but she argues that while not paying school bonds will mean higher taxes, every Alaskan had $1,600 taken out of their pockets in the form of a reduced Permanent Fund Dividend.
People choose to live in rural areas, she says, and they understand the costs associated with doing that and the state is not there to subsidize their travel.
“The people of the Mat-Su are not coming to the Alaska Legislature because government’s the answer,” says Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake. “Government’s not the answer. The people of the Mat-Su say we’ll get by with what we got.”
He says he feels the state is taking the people’s money in the form of the PFD, and that’s wrong. The Department of Transportation and Public Facilities informed him that the money in the override would not affect current ferry scheduling.
“People in my district work very hard, to cover the costs the way they can,” Neuman says.
Stedman gave about a five minute speech about the importance of the ferry system and school funding, not just for his district but for all of Alaska. After his speech he started to sit down, but then quickly added, “oh, and I’m going to vote for it.”
A number of lawmakers have risen to speak in favor of overriding the vetoes. Most of them are echoing the same points made by their colleagues: people depend on the ferries, schools need funding and not paying back bonds means more taxes for municipalities.
And we’re back…the motion is still under discussion. Rep. Adam Wool, D-Fairbanks, speaks in support of the ferries.
“Ferries don’t turn a profit,” Wool says. “They need public funding.”
Session takes a brief at ease.
Support to restore the vetoes seems to be breaking along the same lines as the special session over the summer. Lawmakers who opposed overriding in July have risen to speak against the vote. Legislators who have risen in opposition say they support the goals of the overrides, but believe there are better ways to work through the issues in the coming budget.
But some of their colleagues have countered that overriding the vetoes provides relief now, rather than in a couple of months.
$5 million doesn’t solve AMHS’ problems, Micciche says, even though he finds the current level of ferry service unacceptable. He says there’s $16 million in the planned budget that will help the ferries.
The overrides feel more political than an effort to help the ferries, Micciche says.
“Let’s let FY20 be over,” he says. “Let’s work through solutions for the future. (I) want to work on these issues in a very different manner.”
Senators and representatives are rising to speak to the overrides. Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, speaks the importance of the AMHS and without school bond reimbursement, municipalities will most likely have higher property taxes.
Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, says the AMHS is vital to Alaska and provides many things to coastal Alaskans that those connected to the road system take for granted like health care and intramural sports.
The motion would restore $5 million to AMHS, just under $50 million for school bond debt reimbursement, and just under $20 million to regional area education funding.
Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, says that while she recognizes the importance of AMHS, she believes many of the vessels require significant maintenance before they can go back into service, she argues that there will be funding for ferries in the supplemental budget. Municipalities will be able to prioritize their funding when it comes to school bonds, she says, citing large reserves in the Anchorage school district.
The session is back in order. Reinbold removes her call.
Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, is speaking to the importance of AMHS.
“Overriding this veto is the right thing to do,” she says. “The $5 million are operation funds that need to be restored. Alaskans have spoken.” Stutes says.
Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, spoke earlier to the importance of the ferries as well.
Sen. Lora Reinbold, R-Eagle River, has been trying to make a point of order. Giessel says she is out of order and will not recognize her point of order.
Rep. Chuck Kopp, R-Anchorage, makes a motion to argue that some lawmakers are intentionally trying to obstruct business.
Reinbold says that Giessel is out of order, accusing her of partisanship. Reinbold asks for a call of the house. A call would delay proceedings until all members can be present.
A brief at ease is taken.
I can hear Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, and Reinbold speaking to each other during the at ease. They feel as if they are being sidelined and their procedural rights are being taken away.
House votes 15 yeas, 23 nays. Senate votes 4 yeas, 20 nays. Total: 20 yeas – 37 nays.
The motion fails and the issues will remain together as one single item.
House Majority Leader Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, enters a motion to override vetoes to the Alaska Marine Highway System and school bond debt reimbursement and regional area education funding.
Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, asks to split the three initiatives. Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, objects saying all three of those issues are very important to his constituents.
After a brief at ease, Micciche asks to separate the AMHS issue from the education issues.
After about a 20 minute at ease, the House comes back to order with Eastman withdrawing his objection.
“We’re sharpening the finer nature of the rules,” Edgmon says.
Senate President Cathy Giessel takes over and brings the full joint session to order.
Rep. David Eastmen, R-Wasilla, objects to excusing Carpenter, and asks for a call of the house which would delay the session until all members can be present.
A brief at ease is taken. Lawmakers are up out of their seats, speaking with one another. The feeling in the room is fairly amicable, but it’s only been a few minutes.
House chambers are packed as the entire Alaska State Legislature gathers for a joint session. The bustle has quieted down as the last few members file in. Staff are trying to make sure everyone who’s present in the building is in the chamber.
Reps. Mel Gillis, R-Anchorage, and Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, and Sen. David Wilson, R-Wasilla, are not present.
The state constitution gives the Legislature a five day deadline to override the vetoes from the last session, according to Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau.
“I think people are still trying to make sure they’ve got 45 votes, the highest threshold in the country, as we speak,” Kiehl said. “I’ve talked to some colleagues and everyone’s bustling around.”
Kiehl said legislators had been speaking throughout the interim to see where there’s support for overrides. Some of the issues that appear to have support, according to Kiehl, are the Alaska Marine Highway System, school bond debt reimbursement, and public broadcasting.
“There is a serious push to try and put together the votes for public broadcasting,” Kiehl said. “There’s such a critical public safety function throughout rural Alaska and of course it’s a critical part of having Gavel to Gavel coverage so that every Alaskan can see what’s going on in their government.”
Dunleavy spokesperson Jeff Turner said the governor’s office had no comment at this time. The governor is currently in Anchorage.
Both the House and Senate are scheduled to have a joint floor session beginning at 10:30 a.m. today. In a joint statement from House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, and Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage Thursday night, it was announced the two bodies would meet “to consider veto overrides.”
The Legislature has five days from the start of session to vote to override Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s vetoes from last year.
While the session is scheduled for 10:30 a.m., it’s not uncommon for sessions to be delayed.
House and Senate Finance Committees are meeting today, and both are getting a rundown of the state’s finances. Lawmakers have been meeting with representatives from various departments, each of whom are giving a picture of the state’s budget from different angles.
This morning at 9 a.m., Senate Finance is meeting with the state’s debt manager to get a summary of the state’s debt and credit.
At 1:30 p.m., the House Finance Committee will meet with the representatives from the Office of Management and Budget to discuss Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2021. House Finance got a rundown of the governor’s budget from the Legislative Finance Division on Wednesday. OMB are part of the Department of Administration and it’s director is appointed by the governor.
On Monday Dunleavy appointed Neil Steininger as the new director of OMB, replacing Donna Arduin, who left last year.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or email@example.com.