Legislators brace for showdown over governor's vetoes

    Fairbanks, Alaska (AP) - The message on the front page of Alaska's second-largest newspaper was unmistakable.

    A nearly 2-inch headline, outlined in red, in Monday's edition of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner contained a single word: OVERRIDE. It appeared over a full-page editorial calling for state lawmakers to "save Alaska" from severe budget vetoes by Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the likely economic devastation that would follow.

    Emotions are running high ahead of a joint legislative session Wednesday when legislators will consider overriding vetoes by Dunleavy, a first-term Republican. They include a $130 million reduction in funding for the University of Alaska, whose flagship campus is in Fairbanks.

    Dunleavy cut state support for public broadcasting, the state arts council, ocean rangers who monitor cruise ship discharges and a program that provides money to senior citizens who have low or moderate incomes. Among other cuts are reduced spending for Medicaid, reimbursement to communities for school construction, and the Civil Air Patrol, which provides training and search-and-rescue services for Alaska's flying community.

    Dunleavy told legislators that the remaining budget focuses on basic responsibilities while understanding the state's fiscal constraints. The House speaker and Senate president believe he went too far.

    "The public is speaking loud and clear," said Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, at a news conference Monday. "They're greatly opposed to the huge vetoes that the governor administered."

    "It's affecting all age groups from students who are interested in going to college to seniors who now have to decide if they're going to be able to afford their medicine or heat for their home in the winter or food," said Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage.

    Lawmakers themselves are divided even on where to meet to consider vetoes. Dunleavy called a special session and ordered lawmakers to a makeshift capitol in the gymnasium of a middle school in his hometown of Wasilla. Twenty-one legislators showed up there Monday but could not conduct business because they did not have a quorum.

    Most of the 20 members of the Senate and 40 members of the House flew to Juneau, the state capital, to conduct business.

    Giessel and Edgmon on Monday acknowledged that they do not have the votes in hand to override Dunleavy's vetoes. They're hoping that pressure brought to bear by constituents will help them get the 45 votes needed.

    "I'm getting 60, 70 emails an hour, from all over the state covering all of these different areas," Giessel said.

    "I think you're seeing an engaged Alaskan electorate," said Edgmon, who attended veto override rallies in Anchorage and Fairbanks. "The month of July, the hottest week on record we've ever had in Alaska, you're seeing people turning out in droves and droves like we've never seen it before."

    Supporters of the Alaska State Council on Arts planned Tuesday to drape works of art in public spaces to highlight the relevance of art.

    The Grammy-award winning band Portugal. The Man, which hails from Wasilla, was to be featured Tuesday at a rally at the University of Alaska Anchorage to encourage lawmakers to overturn Dunleavy's budget vetoes.

    Rod Boyce, managing editor of the Fairbanks newspaper, said Alaska's bleak future under the Dunleavy vetoes led to the unprecedented full-page editorial on the front page.

    "This was the right moment for it," he said.

    The editorial said Dunleavy's heavy cuts could lead to dire economic consequences at the same time he's calling for $3,000 payments to every resident from the Alaska Permanent Fund, a $64 billion savings account created by oil revenue and grown through investment.

    "For Fairbanks, in particular, the governor's veto of 41 percent of the state's funding to the University of Alaska — $130 million — would prove devastating," the editorial said. "An estimated 1,300 UA employees would be out of work in the system."

    Edgmon, the House speaker, said he hopes all lawmakers will show up to vote on the veto overrides.

    "If they don't show, it's going to be between them and their districts and their ability to rationalize why they thought it was more important to stay away than to come down and make the tough vote," he said.

    House Minority Leader Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, said last week it would be political gamesmanship and an effort to make members look bad if leaders conducted a joint session knowing they lacked sufficient votes to overturn Dunleavy cuts.

    "That doesn't show that you're truly trying to work with people to come to something that's best for Alaska. It's you trying to humiliate them and their communities," he said.

    On Monday, Pruitt said the majority should have met in Wasilla with the minority. The Juneau session is not valid, he said, and he did not plan to join his colleagues in the Capitol.

    "I will be here, waiting for them to join us," he said.

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