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Legislature fails to override pair of Dunleavy budget vetoes

(KTUU)
Published: Jan. 24, 2020 at 2:11 PM AKST
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A vote to override two of the governor’s vetoes has failed in a joint session of the Alaska Legislature.

The vote was on whether to give $5 million to the Alaska Marine Highway System and to restore roughly $70 million in school construction costs to municipal governments.

The 37-20 vote failed to reach the required supermajority of 45 members of the 60-member Legislature.

The joint session started with a bang when Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, failed to come to the session without an excused absence.

Rep. David Eastman and Sen. Lora Reinbold, both Republicans, demanded a call of the House, compelling Carpenter to appear. Debate centered on whether the call was intended to delay the proceedings before each call was withdrawn.

Lawmakers then spoke passionately about the need for additional ferry funding, referencing the impacts to coastal communities of a reduced winter schedule.

“The ferry system is vital; it is not optional,” said Rep. Louise Stutes, a Kodiak Republican.

Other lawmakers stood saying the veto override process is not the way to give Alaska’s ferries more revenue.

“We’ll figure it out legislatively,” said Sen. Mike Shower, a Wasilla Republican.

The Dunleavy administration told lawmakers that roughly $12 million in funding would be added to a supplemental budget in February for ferry maintenance.

The money would be used to get vessels back into service that are currently in layup.

According to officials with the Dunleavy administration, ships being offline is the biggest impediment to increasing service to coastal communities.

Some lawmakers said the $5 million would be used for ferry system operations and that it was a critical appropriation needed immediately.

“What we’re concerned about is the empty grocery stores today,” said Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka.

The roughly $70 million vetoed from school bond debt reimbursement also received passionate support on the floor.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, said the state not paying municipal governments for school construction costs would shift costs to local governments and lead to higher property taxes.

The Dunleavy administration circulated a document on Friday showing that school districts hold roughly $500 million in reserves that could allow them to weather a tough fiscal storm.

The $500-million figure was cited by many of the lawmakers voting against the veto override.

Sen. Jesse Kiehl, a Juneau Democrat, said the idea of school districts sitting on large reserves is a myth and includes capital reserves unable to be spent on school construction debt. “That money is not there to cover last year’s bonds,” he said.

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