A full veto? Line item vetoes? Dunleavy says everything’s on the table for the budget

Gov. Mike Dunleavy at a midday news conference on Day 121 of the legislative session on May 15, 2019.

The Alaska Legislature finally passed an operating budget on Monday, but a government shutdown won’t officially be off the table until the budget is signed into law.

That’ll be up to Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy, whose central campaign promise of a $3,000 dividend isn’t in the budget. The Legislature punted on the dividend on Monday, forming a special working group to come up with recommendations for the future of the dividend instead.

It’s unclear what the Legislature’s action will mean for the fate of the budget, though, after Dunleavy released a vague statement following the bill’s passage.

“In the coming days, I will review and scrutinize the budget passed by the Legislature and determine the best path forward, including options to accept the budget as passed, to veto the budget in its entirety, or to veto portions of the budget to better align expenditures and revenues,” he said. “I am absolutely determined to address the budget issues that have haunted Alaska for years.”

While the governor has frequently raised the possibility of exercising his veto authority, he has stopped short of saying he would veto a budget if it didn’t contain a dividend.

“We are adamant that the laws be followed pertaining to the permanent fund, and we’ll keep insisting upon that,” he said during a Facebook town hall during the special session.

Why it matters

With the Legislature only making a fraction of the cuts proposed by Dunleavy, line item vetoes have almost always been a certainty. A veto of the full budget creates a more interesting situation.

The Legislature needs a total of 45 votes to override budget vetoes, whether they’re line item vetoes or a veto of the full budget. It’s a barrier makes overriding a line item veto a difficult task, particularly when it would rely on winning at least a few votes from the minority House Republicans who’ve been closely aligned with the governor.

With three weeks until the start of the new fiscal year, a veto of the full budget would all but guarantee a government shutdown on July 1. That kind of scenario could make a veto override more likely. While it might be difficult to muster 45 votes to restore funding to any particular item, a government shutdown is far more serious.

In the case of an override of the full budget, everything in the budget would go into effect as passed by the Legislature.

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