Three-quarters or two-thirds? House panel to hear testimony on a lower threshold for veto overrides

Something might be going on in there.The Alaska State Capitol building as photographed in 2010. (Photo by Kimberly Vardeman/Creative Commons)

Is the three-quarter threshold to override the governor’s budget vetoes too high?

A group of lawmakers believe so, arguing that no other state has such a high barrier to override a governor’s actions on the budget and that it should be lowered to a two-thirds majority. Such a change would require a constitutional amendment approved by Alaska voters.

House Joint Resolution 15, authored by Sitka Democratic Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, seeks to put the matter to voters and is up for a public hearing at 3 p.m. Tuesday in the House State Affairs Committee.

Currently, the Alaska Constitution requires 45 of the 60 legislators to vote for overriding a budget veto. The proposal, if approved by the Legislature and by voters, would lower that to a 40-legislator threshold. None of the recent rounds of veto overrides, which culminated with a last-ditch attempt on Friday, would have cleared either threshold.

Still, Kreiss-Tomkins said all the attention has raised an issue with the override.

“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 at a hearing last week.

Though this is likely to be viewed in light of the recent failed efforts to override Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Kreiss-Tomkins appealed to the more conservative members of the Legislature with a hypothetical.

“If you have an environmentalist governor in Alaska two terms from now and that governor just wants to end the mining industry in Alaska and line item vetoes the Division of Mining, Land and Water from the DNR budget, that governor very well is likely going to be able to do that because the override threshold is so incredibly high,” he said. “Regardless of who is in the executive branch and who the administration is, there’s a clear imbalance in the separation of powers in Alaska and, as we’ve seen in the other 49 states, HJR 15 seeks to rebalance those separation of powers.”

With several committee stops, HJR 15 faces a long way before it would reach the ballot, but at least it won’t need a three-quarter vote to get there. Proposed amendments to the Alaska Constitution require a two-third vote of legislators to be put on the ballot.

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