Sen. Mike Dunleavy stood tall on the Senate floor this afternoon and spoke with respect. With Dunleavy, standing tall is the only way. And respect comes naturally to him.
Knowing the consequences to come, the District E Republican told his colleagues he was breaking from the majority caucus. He needed to go his own way on the budget. He would be a “no” vote.
And then he voted against the majority’s budget and became a caucus of one.
It was no surprise to Senate leadership, as he had been negotiating with them for days over the spending plan.
But Dunleavy did vote in favor of tapping the Constitutional Budget Reserve, and then he accidently voted yes on the budget in a procedural confusion, although he said tonight that he had made a mistake and would vote no when the bill comes back from the House.
He appeared to be overtired during floor session and said he is fighting a serious cold that may have turned into pneumonia. He has had a persistent cough for weeks.
In an interview this evening, he told Must Read Alaska that during special orders on the Senate floor on Friday, he will reiterate his intent to be a no vote.
He expressed disappointment in the outcome of the budget, “that the collective outcome had less reductions than I would have hoped.
“Basically the funding for a reduced PFD embedded within the budget — I could not support that. I’ve been in negotiations with them for days, but in the end this caucus decided to go with this budget. I told them I would withdraw from the caucus before I voted. That was the right thing to do.”
Dunleavy said his constituents were different from those in other parts of the state, and it was getting harder for him to represent them within the confines of the caucus.
“It’s not my intention to throw any of my colleagues under the bus. We are friends. We are Republicans,” he said. But Dunleavy is known to be an individualist, not a natural joiner, and he’s certainly not a follower.
Dunleavy’s staff aide, Daniel George, wrote on Facebook: “I’m fairly certain I won’t have a job tomorrow because he has left the caucus. However, I told Mike, if the only reason you have to vote for this budget is to keep me employed as your staffer (which I have truly enjoyed doing), forget about it. I would rather you vote your conscience on this budget. I’m young still, sort of, and I’ll find my own way. Don’t let me be a human shield for state spending you can’t support. Once that burden was taken from him, he had no reason left not to vote the way his constituents want. That is how government should function.”
After hours of listening to amendment upon amendment from Democrat senators wanting to add back spending to the budget, all in the Alaska Senate were tired.
Democrats had a field day on Twitter, lauding the Dunleavy defection over a “bad budget.”
Being part of a majority caucus primarily means you vote as a group on the majority’s budget and some procedural votes. Most other votes are left to the discretion of the lawmaker, but to break from the budget vote comes with consequences. Usually defectors are stripped of their committee chairmanships.
That happened to Rep. Lora Reinbold two years ago, when she bolted from the House majority caucus, lost her committee chairmanships, was put in a reduced office and had, for some time, no staff. Some say the district she represents got short shrift during that time.
Whether the Senate majority will dish out the same treatment to Dunleavy remains to be seen. But he expects to lose staff, committee chairmanship, and perhaps office space. Enforcing the rules is the only way a caucus can stay together.
Dunleavy has presented his own fiscal plan, which includes making Alaskans whole on their Permanent Fund Dividends, and making $1.1 billion in cuts over the next four years. His cuts were aggressive — $300 million each year for three years, and $200 million the final fiscal year, for FY 18, 29, 20 and 21. Reserves of about $13 billion would make up the difference.
The Earnings, under his plan, would continue to grow, and the Permanent Fund Corporation agrees his plan will pencil out.
But some in Juneau think it’s too aggressive, the cuts that are assumed in order to make the plan pencil are too deep, hitting large programs such as education too hard. In any case, there’s little chance Dunleavy’s plan would pass the Democrat-controlled House, nor would it be signed by Gov. Bill Walker, who has said that he is done cutting, and now needs tax revenues to pay for government.
Dunleavy is considered a likely candidate for governor in 2018. He won’t say whether or not he has decided, but separating himself from the herd may also be a strategic move. He represents one of the more conservative areas of the state: Mat-Su, Delta Junction, Copper River Valley, and Valdez.
The Alaska Senate’s operating budget cuts state spending by $276 million, although it achieves some cuts through balance transfers.
The Senate’s version of the operating budget, House Bill 57, proposes $4.1 billion in unrestricted general fund spending.
“To help address the fiscal problem, we asked the state’s largest agencies to cut a nickel on the dollar,” said Sen. Lyman Hoffman, a Bethel Democrat who co-chairs Senate Finance Committee.
Check back for updates to this story.-sd