Alaska lawmakers failed Wednesday to override some $400 million in budget vetoes by Gov. Mike Dunleavy, as fewer legislators were present in Juneau than the 45 votes needed to reverse the governor.
The vote, held in a joint session of the House and Senate, was 37-1 in favor of overriding Dunleavy. Lawmakers from both parties made emphatic speeches to justify their rejection of the governor’s steep spending cuts to the state university system, health care and the arts; North Pole Republican Rep. Tammie Wilson was the only “no” vote.
“This is not the Alaska I grew up in,” said Anchorage Republican Sen. Natasha von Imhof, who voted to override the vetoes. “This is not the future I want for our great state.”
Amid a legal dispute with the House and Senate majority caucus leadership, some 20 Republican lawmakers aligned with Dunleavy have declined to meet in Juneau, where Wednesday’s vote took place. Instead, they’ve held brief meetings this week at Wasilla Middle School, where the governor asked lawmakers to convene in a special session to consider legislation to pay Alaskans’ annual Permanent Fund dividend checks.
Leaders of the largely-Democratic House majority and mostly-Republican Senate majority have insisted that the Legislature has the legal authority to choose Juneau as their meeting place, even if Dunleavy sets the session agenda. The disagreement has split lawmakers between the two locations, with Friday the constitutional deadline for overriding the governor’s vetoes.
As the lawmakers in Juneau convened for their vote, protesters occupied the Wasilla Middle School gymnasium where the Republican legislators were trying to meet, chanting: “Don’t hide! Override!”
The GOP lawmakers left the room, with Anchorage Republican Sen. Mia Costello telling the Anchorage Daily News that the legislators would return for another meeting Thursday.
By Wednesday afternoon, there was no indication that either of the two competing groups of lawmakers would agree to join the other before the end of the week. But if that happens, the Legislature could take another vote on overriding the vetoes by its Friday deadline.
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