Missing legislators needed to participate in vote

by Senator Lyman Hoffman

Dear Friends and Neighbors:

On Monday, July 8th, the Legislature convened for a 2nd Special Session. With 14 Senators and 23 House members present in Juneau, both bodies had a quorum to conduct business. As most of you know, some members of the Legislature went to the Wasilla middle school. The Senate found themselves without a Majority Leader. President Giessel and the Senate Majority members present asked that I step into the Majority Leader position and I accepted. In addition, I was placed as a member on the Senate Rules Committee and I maintain my role as a member on the Senate Finance Committee, the Legislative Council Committee and the Legislative Budget & Audit Committee.

On Wednesday, July 10th, the House and Senate met in a Joint Session in order to consider overrides to the Governor’s vetoes of the Operating and Mental Health Budgets. That override was not successful.

Alaska has, in its Constitution, the highest requirement for a veto override vote of items struck from a budget – ¾ of the Legislature need to vote in order to undo the actions of a governor. All other states require 2/3, 3/5 or simple majority. We did not have 45 legislators present for the vote. We recessed the joint session to Thursday, July 11th, hopeful that the missing legislators would decide to come to Juneau to participate in this critical vote. They did not.

Our state and our people are diverse and that is reflected in each Legislator that brings the voices of their region into the larger discussion of what should become law. The 40 Representatives and 20 Senators are different. When you see big divides in the Legislature, understand that this represents a multitude of opinions across our state. An example of this is seen in the contrasting views on the budget and the Permanent Fund Dividend.

Every year, the Governor submits budgets to the Legislature for our consideration. Is there always agreement with what the Governor wants to do? No. Which is why budgets go through a lengthy Legislative hearing process, through subcommittees, to finance committees, to full floor debates in both chambers. This year was no different. We worked collectively in both bodies to construct a budget that reduced spending back to 2004 levels of unrestricted general funds. The reductions were about $250 million. The Senate voted unanimously on that budget.

The Governor made additional reductions of $444 million, above and beyond what the Legislature has done collaboratively as 60 lawmakers. We now face devastation of key parts of the state’s economy. Some of the vetoed items include the University, Head Start, Adult Dental, Senior Benefits, WWAMI, University of Alaska Performance Scholarships for high school seniors, behavioral health and homeless grants, over 180 items vetoed that impact Alaskans of every age, geographic area, demographic.

So, the veto override failed. Where does that leave us? With a lot of work to do! Legislators that are here are committed to working on a solution. We look forward to working with the other members and the Governor, to put Alaska first!