House will try to restore PFD, increase deficit

The Alaska House of Representatives has asked the state Senate to join it for a joint session at noon Friday for the purpose of overriding some or all of $1.2 billion in budgetary vetoes signed by Gov. Bill Walker. That includes Walker’s cut to the Permanent Fund Dividend.

Before the state fiscal year began July 1, Walker demanded that the Legislature implement a comprehensive fiscal plan to erase Alaska’s multibillion-dollar budget deficit. When lawmakers failed to do so in a regular session, an extension of that regular session, and in a special session, Walker halved the dividend, eliminated $430 million in oil and gas drilling subsidies and cut millions from education and public safety programs.

The Alaska Constitution requires the Legislature to override a veto within five days of the start of a special session following the veto. Friday will be the fifth day and the last opportunity to override any of Walker’s decisions.

Daniel McDonald, a spokesman for the Alaska Senate Majority, said by email that senators “received the letter and the issue is being discussed among the caucus.”

If the House and Senate agree to meet on Friday, they will go line by line through each of the 41 vetoes. There must be a “yes” vote from 45 of the Legislature’s 60 members to override the veto.

It will not be easy.

“Most legislators don’t think there’s any chance,” said Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake.

While there is broad agreement on voting to override some of Walker’s vetoes ─ House majority leader Charisse Millett, R-Anchorage, and House minority leader Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, are working together ─ there is broad disagreement about what exactly should be restored.

“Every one of us has a priority of the items that were vetoed … but I also think that there’s such a spread in what was vetoed that it will be very difficult for any one individual item, perhaps, to get the support to be overridden,” said Rep. Sam Kito III, D-Juneau.

Kito said he favors an override on the governor’s cuts to education, school bond debt reimbursement and to the university system.

“We still have to educate our students. We still have to make sure we’re supporting our schools,” he said.

Of the opposite viewpoint is Rep. Lynn Gattis, R-Wasilla.

“I’m pushing for a Permanent Fund Dividend veto override. I would have to say that it’s not just my thought, but the folks in the Mat-Su are mad,” she said. “They want me to push for that. I think for them, it’s about how dare this governor think that he’s going to do this without making the significant cuts and the cuts to all government?”

Kito and Gattis are emblematic of the Legislature’s divide and the divide in Alaska as a whole. At a Wednesday afternoon Senate State Affairs Committee meeting in Wasilla, Sen. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, offered plenty of barbs for administration officials as the chanting of demonstrators was clearly audible through the walls of the Wasilla Legislative Information Office.

Early Wednesday, Walker’s staff released a six-page report explaining that there will be dire consequences if the Legislature fails to raise new revenue through taxes, spending from the Alaska Permanent Fund, or some combination of the two.

By 2020, the state would be forced to operate with as little as one-third of the budget it has today. That would result in prisoners being released from jail early, mass layoffs and other unsavory actions, the report states.

But big cuts have big support in some areas of the state. Gattis said she doesn’t see all of the bullet points on Walker’s report as bad things.

“I choose to say that it allows us to take action, the very action we need,” she said. With other industries cutting back, it makes sense for government to do the same. “When you don’t have money — and it’s kind of a bumper sticker — but if you’re broke, you have to act like it.”

“It’s clear now: We have a serious fiscal crisis,” Walker said in a prepared statement. “How we deal with this crisis will define us all — with no less than Alaska’s future hanging in the balance. I therefore expect, and all Alaskans should demand, compromise and affirmative action by this Legislature on a comprehensive solution to our massive budget deficit during this special legislative session.”

Walker went on to say that after Alaskans become familiar with the options in front of them, “voters will be much better informed about who should represent them in Juneau.”

The Alaska Republican Party issued a statement saying it considers Walker’s statement a threat to campaign against lawmakers who vote against his fiscal ideas. If that’s the case, it could be a violation of the state’s Executive Ethics Act, which prohibits “use or authorize the use of state funds, facilities, equipment, services, or another government asset or resource for partisan political purposes.”

“Gov. Walker issued a press release this morning in which he not only threatened sitting legislators, but strongly inferred he would campaign against anyone who doesn’t answer his specific questions about addressing the budget gap,” said Rick Whitbeck, vice chairman of the Alaska Republican Party, in a prepared statement. “He has stepped over the line when it comes to misusing the office. Alaskans have to ask themselves if he’s violated the Executive Branch Ethics Act.”

“It might’ve hurt him a little bit with some of his relationships with legislators,” said Tuck, the leader of the House Democrats.

• Contact James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com.

Related stories:

Poll: Alaskans hugely support legislative term limits

Joe Miller really wants to fire Gov. Walker, and here’s how he plans to do it

Alaska Legislature turns down free building

The city just took a small but significant step in solving Juneau’s decades-old housing problem

More in News

The Aurora Borealis glows over the Mendenhall Glacier in 2014. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Aurora Forecast

Forecasts from the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute for the week of Feb. 5

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2023

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire 
Edward Richards, left, a high school student in the Sitka School District, talks about the lack of mental health services in Alaska’s public schools as part of the testimony also offered by district Superintendent Frank Hauser, center, and student Felix Myers during a Senate Education Meeting on Monday at the Alaska State Capitol. The committee is proposing a 17% increase in the state’s school funding formula, which was remained essentially flat since 2017.
School’s in at the Capitol

Students and education leaders from around state make case for more classroom cash.

Folks at the Alaska State Capitol openly admit to plenty of fish tales, but to a large degree in ways intended to benefit residents and sometimes even the fish. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
The bizarre bills other state legislatures are considering

Alaska’s Legislature isn’t mulling the headline-grabbers some statehouses have in the works.

This photo shows snow-covered hills in the Porcupine River Tundra in the Yukon Territories, Canada. In July 1997, a hunter contacted troopers in Fairbanks, Alaska, and reported finding a human skull along the Porcupine River, around 8 miles (13 kilometers) from the Canadian border. Investigators used genetic genealogy to help identify the remains as those of Gary Frank Sotherden, according to a statement Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023, from Alaska State Troopers. (AP Photo / Rick Bowmer)
Skull found in ‘97 in Interior belongs to New York man

A skull found in a remote part of Alaska’s Interior in 1997… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023

This report contains information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Officer William Hicks stands with JPD Chief Ed Mercer and Deputy Chief David Campbell during a swearing in ceremony for Hicks on Thursday at the JPD station in Lemon Creek. (Jonson Kuhn / Juneau Empire)
New officer joins JPD’s ranks

The Juneau Police Department welcomed a new officer to its ranks Thursday… Continue reading

These photos show Nova, a 3-year-old golden retriever, and the illegally placed body hold trap, commonly referred to as a Conibear trap, that caught her while walking near Outer Point Trail last week. (Courtesy / Jessica Davis)
Dog narrowly survives rare illegally placed trap in Juneau

State wildlife officials outlined what to do if found in similar situation

Most Read