The third day of the legislative session contained some big surprises. Department of Corrections Commissioner Nancy Dahlstrom announced in the middle of a committee meeting that the state had abandoned its plans to ship inmates Outside.
Meanwhile, the Legislature announced that it would be holding a joint session today to attempt overrides of the last round of vetoes. Then this happened.
The Alaska Constitution gives the Legislature five days into the regular session to attempt an override of vetoes made by the governor during the interim, and that looks like the plan for today.
Late Thursday afternoon, the House and Senate announced plans to hold a joint session today at 10:30 a.m. with the main plan, according to House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, to take up the vetoes of school bond debt reimbursement and supplemental funding for the Alaska Marine Highway System.
As he told KTUU’s Sea nMaguire, though, “Anything can happen in a joint session.”
The ferry funding amounts to $5 million the Legislature added to its “restoration” budget after the initial round of vetoes to take the bite off the $43 million in cuts the Legislature approved as a “something’s better than the nothing proposed by Gov. Dunleavy” sort of deal. The House Transportation Committee, chaired by coastal Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, took testimony from several communities earlier this week outlining some pretty dire situations created by the months-long absence in ferry service.
Meanwhile, the school bond debt reimbursement would amount to about $70 million and represents the money the state had pledged to local communities to help with school construction and renovation projects. Without the money, several communities had to rework their budgets and consider new taxes.
Just like the initial wave of vetoes, it’s unlikely that the Legislature will muster much interest from the Dunleavy-aligned minority Republicans or the Dunleavy-aligned Republican senators. Still, it’s an opportunity to put many of them on the record with the vetoes after many bailed out to the Wasilla special session last summer, running out the clock on the first round of vetoes.
Other items could also come up, which could potentially have some interest when it comes to the looming supplemental budget. Legislative budget analysts say they anticipate the supplemental to cross past the $250 million mark—in large part because of several vetoes Dunleavy made to social safety net programs—and require a tricky three-quarter vote from the Legislature.
Still, this is also a three-quarter vote (45 total legislators) so it’s not any easier. It’s likely that the minority Republicans would rather hold their leverage for another day.
Changing the veto override
Interestingly enough, the House State Affairs Committee held a hearing Thursday on House Joint Resolution 15, a proposed constitutional amendment by Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins to lower the bar for budget overrides. Currently, Alaska has the highest bar of any state to override a budget veto with its three-quarter bar.
The proposed amendment would lower that bar to a two-third requirement that’s in line with more states and also what is currently required to override the veto of non-budget bills.
Kreiss-Tomkins said the change would help clean things up and clarify them, but also that it would better balance the power between the executive branch and the legislative branch. He said that as it stands—and as was proved last year—the three-quarter mark essentially gives the governor unchecked power to veto budget items.
“Put aside the current situation around the budget. If you have an administration with really any perspective ideologically or philosophically, having a three-quarters override threshold effectively gives the executive branch and that administration a blank check to execute their agenda and their vision through the veto pen,” he said.
Of course, the change would have to go to the voters for approval. At least it won’t require a three-quarter vote from the Legislature to get there but instead a still-difficult two-third vote in each chamber (27 in the House and 14 in the Senate).
The resolution is up for public testimony in State Affairs at 3 p.m. next Tuesday. It’s already been scheduled for a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee next Friday at 1:30 p.m.
As if the day wasn’t already packed with news, the Anchorage Daily News published a report finding the Gov. Dunleavy “sent an official letter to President Donald Trump last month asking the president to help his attorney general (Kevin Clarkson) get his Colombian wife and stepson the re-entry permit and the visa they need to live in the United States.”
Is it an ethical issue? Clarkson says, “no way.”
So, there you have it.
Tweet of the day
— James Brooks (@AK_OK) January 23, 2020