IT’S ALL IN REACTION TO 12.5 PERCENT CUT TO THE STATE BUDGET
The week of July 7-14 will be unusually political for midsummer in Alaska. Some will be fishing, of course. Others will be gnashing their collective teeth and sharpening their metaphorical knives over the cuts to the 2020 operating budget.
There will be protests, more letters to the editor, public pronouncements, and even Portugal. The Man (band) will be headlining a protest at the Alaska Airlines Center on the UAA campus on Tuesday for a veto protest concert and rally.
On Monday, the Legislature will gavel in in two places:
In Juneau, the presiding officers Sen. Cathy Giessel and Rep. Bryce Edgmon will gavel in at 1 pm. They’ll have about 35 of the 60 legislators with them.
In Wasilla, about 22 legislators will gather without the official presiding officers. These are the Republicans who believe that since the governor called the special session location at Wasilla, the Legislature is legally required to at least start its proceedings in Wasilla, and then vote on whether to move the special session to Juneau, Anchorage, or elsewhere.
The Wasilla group will be greeted by the Colony High School Marching Band, some baked goods from locals, and a welcome from the mayor.
Likely there will be a handful of legislators who will not be in either location due to excused or unexcused absences.
Aside from the unprecedented nature of having the Legislature convene in two locations, the only thing on the agenda for this special session is the Permanent Fund dividend, unless the session convenes in Wasilla as requested by the governor, in which case items on the capital budget will be added to the call.
In Juneau, the calendar shows that the bicameral working group that has been considering the fate of the Permanent Fund dividend will meet at 9 am on Monday to receive the report from the group. They’ll meet in Senate Finance Room 532.
At 2 pm on Monday, the House Finance Committee will meet in Room 519 in the Capitol to hear an appropriation bill — origins unknown — that would transfer a sum as authorized under statute from the Earnings Reserve Account of the Permanent Fund to the dividend for payment of a full statutorily defined dividend to qualified Alaskans.
Among those on the House Finance Committee who will be missing will be members of the Republican Minority, who contend that the Juneau session is not legitimate or even legal because the governor called the session in Wasilla. They are: Reps. Cathy Tilton, Ben Carpenter, Kelly Merrick, and Colleen Sullivan-Leonard.
Seven other members of House Finance will probably be in Juneau: Reps. Tammie Wilson and Neal Foster, who are co-chairs, Jennifer Johnston, who is vice chair, Daniel Ortiz, Gary Knopp, Bart LeBon, and Andy Josephson.
The same piece of legislation is on the calendar for 9 am Tuesday in House Finance.
From the moment the clock turns to 1 pm on Monday, lawmakers have five days to overturn the governor’s $400 million in vetoes to the operating budget.
The vote to override will likely take place on Tuesday, Must Read Alaska has learned, and the Legislature must have 45 votes to override. Currently, it’s about six votes short, and fewer than 38 members are expected to show up in Juneau. Some of them will not bow to the pressure that is building among the various groups that are making up a loose coalition that is leading the charge to try to override.
Over the past several days, dozens of opinions have been published objecting to the vetoes and imploring an override. The former state Attorney General, Jahna Lindemuth, even wrote a published opinion the vetoes of the budget are unconstitutional. It was an extraordinary pronouncement for the woman entrusted with upholding the law:
“Make no mistake about it: Every Alaskan will be negatively impacted by the governor’s budget cuts. The cuts are deep and wide, and will change our collective way of life unless the Legislature votes to override the cuts. Because services and programs that Alaskans – especially our most vulnerable – count on every day are at stake, Alaska’s constitution is implicated. Unlike every other state, Alaska’s constitution, the foundational document of our state government, mandates that the governor and the Legislature protect the health, safety and welfare of this great state for all Alaskans. That is the very purpose of our state government. The governor’s cuts are not only irresponsible, they are unconstitutional,” she wrote.
Lindemuth is making the extraordinary pronouncement that the 12.5 percent cut to the state budget violates the Alaska Constitution.
“Taken alone, any one of these cuts may not violate the constitution. But collectively, the cuts are unconstitutional because they threaten public safety and the welfare of all Alaskans. Crime will increase exponentially if the Legislature does not reverse these cuts,” wrote the woman who presided over the worst crime spree in Alaska history under former Gov. Bill Walker.
Last week, the Foraker Group held a teleconference with nonprofit groups across Alaska, not advising them how to adjust to the new reality of how budget cuts will trim their grants, but telling them how to effectively protest those cuts.
As the week moves along, expect more chest beating, more pronouncements of doom by others who share Lindemuth’s opinion of the Constitution. Expect more letters to the editor, and maybe even a legal threat or two.
The five-day clock for veto overrides begins Monday at 1 pm and ends on Saturday at 1 pm. The time between those points will be deafening with unions, Democrats, and furloughed university workers joining forces to try to force spending back into the budget.