The 71st day of the Alaska legislative session was headlined by action that took place outside of the capitol. Each deserves its own story, which we’ll have later today but we wanted to get to the highlights this morning.
Dunleavy comes to Anchorage
From the back of a pickup truck outside 49th State Brewing, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz spoke to a crowd of protestors demonstrating against Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s budget and the presentation he’d be giving at the Americans for Prosperity Event that would be going on inside.
He reminded them of former Gov. Wally Hickel’s words to a 2006 legislative committee on natural gas development: “If it’s good for Alaska, do it; if it’s bad for Alaska, screw it!”
“What do we do with this budget?” he asked the crowd that easily outsized the audience assembling inside.
“Screw it!” the crowd roared back.
The roughly two-hour event inside was a much different scene. While not entirely friendly to the governor, there were plenty in the crowd that nodded or applauded at cherry-picked statistics—like the misleading statement that Alaska schools are failing students across the board, necessitating a cut to education—and statements like “We believe you know how to spend your money better than the government.”
Those from the outside demonstration attempted to a few times to disrupt the meeting by banging on the side door. One man was removed by security after he barged in, presumably because he didn’t have a ticket. There were plenty of open seats.
Dunleavy seemed to take much of it in stride and at one point said, “I’m not afraid to engage the people in these conversations.” It was an odd message given the presence of police and private security at every door.
When he got to questions, two women silently unfurled a “Recall Dunleavy” banner. As the organizers and private security converged on them, they held up the banner and cooperated as they were rushed out of the room.
Questions to the governor were largely critical of the Dunleavy budget—though one seemed to be an identical question asked the night before at the Kenai roadshow, asking an AFP official to talk about how great Colorado’s taxpayer bill of rights is—and he met them with the same kind of dismissal that many of the questions he heard during his appearance on Talk of Alaska earlier in the day.
That’s where he explained why their testimony shouldn’t really count—because they’re not real Alaskans.
“I think a lot of the folks you see coming to these meetings are associated with many of the reductions that we’re talking about. I talk to folks every day, average Alaskans that don’t have the time to take off work. They’re in the private sector. They are supportive of us getting this budget under control. They are supportive of the reductions. There’s 730,000 people in the state of Alaska,” he said. “There are hundreds of people going to these meetings. That’s a small number compared to the overall population. We keep talking to folks, average person on the street, we’re getting support for where we’re going.”
We’ll have more on both the meeting and the Talk of Alaska later today.
Much of the event seemed to foreshadow an effort to get the governor’s three constitutional amendments on the ballot, a move that Americans for Prosperity organizers said they were planning on backing. One of the amendments, a constitutional spending limit seems to be getting the most attention in the Senate, where a similar statutory proposal was proposed last year.
Senate Joint Resolution 6 advanced out of the Senate State Affairs Committee on Tuesday, but not without a warning that may be too broad. The legislation now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Legislators, including Sen. Peter Micciche, have pointed out that the governor’s proposal is quite a bit more restrictive than the one proposed and passed by the Senate last year, seeming to suggest that the Senate may make some changes as the proposal moves through the Legislature.
It requires a two-thirds vote in each chamber: 14 in the Senate and 27 in the House.
“Will I use my constitutional authority to get expenditures in line with revenues?” Dunleavy said in response to a question on Talk of Alaska about his line item veto power. “The answer is yes.”
State of the University
We got to talk with University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen about the university system and the ongoing budget talks after his State of the University address delivered on Tuesday. Like so much else in this post, we’ll have more on it later. In the meantime, his address largely focused on the economic impacts the university provides in so many ways, arguing how that the university shouldn’t be measured just by its income.
After weathering plenty of criticism from the administration that argues the budget should be cut because it’s not comparable to Lower 48 universities, Johnsen had this line:
“In response to the critics that throw averages, I ask is there anything about Alaska that’s average?”
When asked on Talk of Alaska about his violation of the Alaska Constitution when he refused to appoint a judge from the list provided by the Alaska Judicial Council, Dunleavy said he’d be meeting with the chief justice to ask about expanding the list.
According to the Associated Press, Dunelavy did in fact meet with Chief Justice Joel Bolger on Tuesday but there’s no word about the outcome of the meeting yet.
Will the judiciary bend to Dunleavy? Bolger’s rebuttal to Dunleavy’s actions didn’t make it appear like they would. He defended the rigorous nature of the Alaska Judicial Council’s vetting process, noting that nothing in the Alaska Constitution or the constitutional convention would suggest the process is optional.
The Alaska Judicial Council plans to meet later this week to discuss its next steps ahead.
What we’re reading
- The Anchorage municipal election has a whopping 11 propositions on the ballot, and the last one is particularly confusing. The Anchorage Daily News delved into just what the lease-to-purchase proposition will do. Too bad we already mailed in our ballots. Confused by the lease-to-purchase proposition on the Anchorage ballot? Here’s a rundown, via ADN.
- Alaska’s suicide rates are up, making it the fifth leading cause of death in the state. The American Foundation of Suicide Prevention met with legislators on Tuesday, advocating for the extension of the Statewide Suicide Prevention Council contained in House Bill 22 and Senate Bill 10. New data shows Alaska suicide rate increase, via Juneau Empire.