Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks during a news conference in April focusing on the budget and a long-range fiscal plan for the state. He signed the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 on Sunday, but did not publicly announce the signing or line-item vetoes made — including cutting in half an increase to public education spending — until Monday. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks during a news conference in April focusing on the budget and a long-range fiscal plan for the state. He signed the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 on Sunday, but did not publicly announce the signing or line-item vetoes made — including cutting in half an increase to public education spending — until Monday. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)

Lawmakers call for override of Dunleavy’s budget cuts to education funding

Odds are “going to be very difficult,” says Juneau senator.

A handful of lawmakers in the Alaska State Legislature are calling for a special session to override vetoes by Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s of more than $200 million, mostly for education-related spending, in the state’s $6 billion budget for the fiscal year starting July 1.

[Dunleavy vetoes half of education increase as he signs budget]

However, the odds of a successful override are “going to be very difficult,” according to state Sen. Jesse Kiehl, a Juneau Democrat, in an interview Tuesday afternoon.

“I think the question is, do education advocates, parents and business leaders across the state tell their legislators that this is important enough to say ‘heck with politics — do what’s right for Alaska,’” he said. “If they do it’s not outside the realm of possibility, but it’s very difficult.”

According to state statute, if an override is the finish line, there are a few hurdles proponents need to overcome to cross it.

First, it would require the Legislature to call themselves into a special session. To do that, two-thirds of Alaska’s lawmakers must vote to enter one. According to Keihl, the odds of that happening are low — and that’s just the first hurdle.

”I think you’d be hard-pressed to find two-thirds of Alaska legislators to say let’s have a special session,” he said. “I think it’s very difficult to clear and I don’t see it today.”

If two-thirds do vote in favor of a special session, the vote to override the vetoes would require three-fourths — 45 votes — of the full Legislature.

In 2019, the Alaska Legislature tried and failed to override the budget, which included $390 million in state funding being vetoed by Dunleavy.

Sen. Löki Tobin, an Anchorage Democrat and the chair of the Senate Education Committee, in a tweet Monday night, said she would “fully support” an effort by the Legislature to override what she described as a “short-sighted veto” to the education finding.

“Gov Dunleavy’s decision to use his line-item veto authority to cut $87 mil in one-time funding for AK’s public education system will cause irreparable harm on our already struggling school districts,” she wrote.

Rep. Cliff Groh, an Anchorage Democrat, said in a tweet Tuesday that he was “dismayed” by the vetoes included in the budget.

“More than $200 million total, with more than half the cuts coming to education (mostly K-12),” he wrote. “These cuts to education are particularly disappointing and embarrassing for our state.”

Sen. Scott Kawasaki, a Fairbanks Democrat and chair of the Senate State Affairs Committee, said he would also support a veto override to restore education cuts.

Dunleavy can also call for a special session if he wants. He did so this year immediately after the regular session ended in a stalemate in the Legislature, which was resolved on the first day of that special session. He has also discussed calling legislators into a special session this fall to work on a long-range fiscal plan.

When asked Tuesday if the governor had plans to call another special session before the Legislature is scheduled to convene next January, a spokesperson did not say if he intended to or not.

“If the Governor calls a special session, we will announce it through a press release,” said Shannon Mason with the office of the governor.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651)-528-1807.

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