An emergency joint session of the Legislature was called for Friday at 10:30 am to attempt to override two of the governor’s vetoes from last year.
The chief of staff to the governor said it came as a surprise. Ben Stevens said the Administration didn’t learn of the joint session, nor what the topic was, until 5:30 pm on Thursday.
Stevens told the Alaska Miners Association in Juneau this morning that legislative leaders from the House and Senate never reached out to him or the Administration to find out what is in the governor’s supplemental budget.
As it turns out, one of the two items that Senate President Cathy Giessel and Speaker Bryce Edgmon want to override from last year’s budget vetoes is included in the supplemental budget, which is due to the Legislature in two weeks.
The matter concerns ferry funding. Last year, the Legislature cut $43 million from the ferry system under an agreement made between Senator Bert Stedman of Sitka and the Dunleavy Administration. The Legislature then worked $5 million back into the ferry budget, but it was vetoed by the governor in August.
However, in the months ensuing, the Administration has looked at how to help remote coastal communities that depend on the ferries and have no roads. Thus, the governor’s supplemental budget assigns $12.5 million more for the ferry system.
And since August, a $250,000 study of how to restructure the ferry system has been conducted, and was recently released.
As for the school bond debt reimbursement, Stevens said that an annual audit of the various school funds for districts around the state shows that there are more than $500 million sitting in those funds that could be used by districts to pay back their bonds.
Some areas of the state have already increased their local mill rate to accommodate the loss of the state reimbursement funds for the bonds that local voters have approved in past years. The state has picked up those payments for years, but the Dunleavy Administration put a hard stop on the program, due to a lack of state funds.