Lawmakers remain far apart, physically and politically, as time runs out for veto override

State representatives and senators mill around the Alaska House floor during a break in a joint session on Thursday. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

State representatives and senators mill around the Alaska House floor during a break in a joint session on Thursday. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

Alaska’s legislators remained in different physical and political places Thursday, with little likelihood of another vote on overriding Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s line-item vetoes. 

Dunleavy issued a second round of line-item vetoes, this time on the capital budget. Legislators in Juneau criticized the changes, but didn’t vote on overriding them. They didn’t have enough votes, with many lawmakers staying in Wasilla, where Dunleavy called them into special session. 

Dunleavy’s capital budget vetoes removed funding for Interior Gas Utility storage tanks, Northwest Arctic Borough school construction, the Prince William Sound Science Center and eight other projects. 

Anchorage Republican Sen. Natasha von Imhof said the governor violated the principle of the separation of powers by describing the Legislature’s decision to use a fund for a project as “inappropriate.” She likened the language to Dunleavy’s decision to cut judiciary funding based on his disagreement over abortion-related decisions.

“This governor is trying to hamstring the two other branches of government,” she said. “This is the behavior we often see in failing democracies. The last time I checked … this is not a dictatorship. We live in a democracy.”

Dunleavy spokesman Matt Shuckerow said the language merely met the governor’s obligation to state his objections to the funding.

“The constitution is clear that the governor has line-item veto power, and that includes any item in the budget,” he said. “So, the ideas that are being put out there that the governor has somehow violated the constitution by vetoing items — that’s kind of a ridiculous claim.”

The Legislature hasn’t decided how to fund the transportation and other projects in the capital budget. But the bill lays out what projects would be funded once the Legislature settles on how to pay for them. 

Sen. Bert Stedman, a Sikta Republican, expressed frustration that 21 lawmakers remained outside of Juneau. Sen. David Wilson of Wasilla was the only new lawmaker to arrive in Juneau for Thursday’s floor session.

“When they are not here, they have taken my constitutional rights away from me to stand up and defend my district and ask the entire body here to veto-override,” Stedman said, emphasizing that the constitution says the capital is in Juneau.

The lawmakers in Wasilla have said that they were legally required to go to that city because of a state law saying the governor chooses the location of special sessions he calls. A lawyer for the Legislature wrote an opinion that the law may be unconstitutional.

Following the floor debate on the vetoes, there was a noteworthy change in the House.

Rep. Tammie Wilson (R-North Pole) speaks during a House Finance Committee meeting in June. She left the House majority caucus on Thursday. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

Rep. Tammie Wilson (R-North Pole) speaks during a House Finance Committee meeting in June. She left the House majority caucus on Thursday. (Photo by Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

North Pole Republican Rep. Tammie Wilson resigned from the House majority caucus. She says she made the decision after the caucus removed her from her position as the co-chair of the House Finance Committee for voting against the budget veto overrides. 

“Everyone in the world should have known that was exactly what I was going to do,” she said. “They wanted to basically call foul and say that I knew that if I voted … no on that that I would be kicked out.”

Lawmakers in the Capitol said there’s little to no chance there would be another override vote held on Friday, the deadline for overrides under the state constitution.

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