ANCHORAGE–The Anchorage Legislative Information Office was packed inside and out on Tuesday afternoon as hundreds of people called on legislators through public testimony and a rally to override Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s vetoes.
The University of Alaska, the Senior Benefits Program, Medicaid, homelessness programs and the Alaska State Council on the Arts all featured heavily throughout the rally on the steps of the building, while testifiers inside each told personal stories about how the 182 line-item vetoes are already impacting their lives.
Dunleavy delivered his vetoes on what was essentially the last possible minute on Friday with them going into effect on Monday, the start of the new fiscal year. It left many, especially seniors, in unexpected financial trouble and many testified through tears or through barely controlled anger.
“Two days ago, the governor announced his cuts and $175 was taken away from me without any notice,” one woman said with a gasp as she explained how most of her budget already went to housing and heating. “Please, hear my voice and oppose these cuts.”
Another man said he arrived in Alaska after serving in the Vietnam War and said the cuts to the Senior Benefits Program as well as the adult dental services has already wreaked havoc on his life in a very real and very immediate way.
“I’m disappointed because I’m hungry,” he said. “Who’s gonna feed me the rest of the year and I’m particularly interested in who’s gonna feed me tonight? I did my duty to the country, I’m a veteran of a foreign war and here I am starving. … I’m bummed out with you people.”
He said he had a dental appointment scheduled for this week that was canceled because of the governor’s complete veto of adult dental benefits for Medicaid recipients.
Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy has given little justification for his vetoes other than arguing that the cuts are needed to balance the budget, which also includes his hopes of paying out a $3,000 dividend according to statute the state hasn’t followed for the last three years. The governor attempted to repeal things like the Senior Benefits Program through law, but the Legislature never entertained the idea. Instead, he vetoed it.
When he announced his cuts, Dunleavy said the state can no longer be “all things to all people.”
That was a line that was picked up by speaker Cordelia Kellie referenced when she took the stage at the rally. Kellie is a member of the Alaska State Council on the Arts’ Board of Trustees, which saw its funding terminated overnight.
“Those words are fresh in my mind: ‘We can’t be all things to all Alaskans.’ If that’s true, wouldn’t we want to take care of our most vulnerable first? Wouldn’t we want to take care of our elders first? Wouldn’t we want to take care of our youth and young adults first?” Kellie asked. “Who are the people that are kept in mind? Do we have a government for all Alaskans or some Alaskans?”
The Alaska Legislature is due back in special session on July 8. It will have five days to consider an override of the governors vetoes, which will require a high bar of 45 legislators to accomplish.