About 200 protesters gathered across from the Alaska State Capitol at noon Friday, and took the short walk to the governor’s mansion chanting, singing and clapping, voicing their anger at Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the $444 million in cuts to the state budget.
Because the legislature failed to get the 45 votes necessary to override the governor’s line-item vetoes, the cuts to the state budget still stand.
The legislature had five days to override the vetoes, but the special session called by Dunleavy doesn’t end until Aug. 2. Lawmakers still have time to come to an agreement on the capital budget which will provide funding to social services.
Protesters, many of them waving signs that read “It’s the oil tax credit” referring to the tax breaks given to the oil companies operating in the state, gathered outside the capitol to rally against the cuts.
Rose O’Hara-Jolley, of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, a nonprofit organization in support of Planned Parenthood, told the Empire, “We’re going to send (Dunleavy) as well as those 22 other legislators a message that we’re going to hold him accountable to what he’s doing to the people of this state.”
“Him being cowardly, and not being part of the discussion, doesn’t mean that we don’t have our own discussion,” she said.
Protesters soon left the capitol for the governor’s mansion a few blocks away, some of them singing Pete Seeger’s union organizing song, “Which Side Are You On?”
Standing on the steps of the mansion, O’Hara-Jolley read off the names of the 22 legislators who gathered in Wasilla rather than Juneau. After each name was read the crowd shouted back, “shame!”
After only about 30 minutes, the crowd began to break up. One marcher, a registered nurse with the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, told the Empire that she had come to the march on her lunch break.
Protesters left their signs on the steps of the governor’s mansion and dispersed.
Noah Williams, a student at the University of Alaska Southeast who led the crowd in song, singing into a portable PA system, said that he felt “scammed” by legislators.
The Alaska Performance Scholarship, of which Williams is a recipient, remains in limbo at moment. The scholarship was not one of the items Dunleavy vetoed from the state budget, but the money that funds it was automatically moved to the state’s Constitutional Budget Reverse through a process known as “the sweep.” The sweep occurs on June 30, the end of the state’s fiscal year.
Under normal circumstances, that money would have been replaced almost immediately in a “reverse sweep.” But that requires a vote of two-thirds of the legislature, which was not present.
Williams, who attended Juneau-Douglas High School, said he “structured a lot of my high school classes around qualifying for the Alaska Performance Scholarship.” Williams said that teachers and high school counselors had urged him to do so. “I’m now wondering was that all a waste?” he said.
Of the cuts to the university, Williams said, “a 40 percent cut isn’t a cut, it’s a devastation. You wouldn’t have a body if you cut off 40 percent of your body.”
Speaking to the crowd, one protester, Naaweiyaa Tagavan, said that the failure to override the vetoes, “doesn’t mean that there aren’t still tools in the hands of the legislators. They can fashion solutions to this in other ways. If we keep putting the pressure on, it helps them find paths to these solutions.”
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.