Thirty-eight lawmakers gathered Wednesday morning in Juneau but failed to override Gov. Mike Dunleavy's $444 million in budget vetoes announced last month.
A vote occurred just before 2 p.m. Without the 45 votes necessary for the override, the vote failed on a Senate vote of 14-0 and a House vote of 23-1 with North Pole Republican Rep. Tammie Wilson being the only vote against an override.
A group of about 20 legislators remained in Wasilla in staunch opposition of the legislative actions in Juneau. The group left Wasilla Middle School, where the governor designated his special session, Wednesday morning after protesters blockaded the front doors of the school and took over the school gymnasium where the floor sessions were to be held.
In Juneau, House and Senate leaders recessed their members until Thursday morning rather than officially adjourning the joint session. This move allows members to pick up the operating budget vetoes again Thursday morning to possibly rescind the failed override vote and, with the hopes that legislators in Wasilla make the trip south, vote again on an override.
The second vote attempt is scheduled for 10:30 a.m., but Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, told reporters she has not heard from any of the missing lawmakers announcing their intent to appear in Juneau.
"But we've giving them every opportunity," Giessel said.
When asked by a reporter if the failed vote was worth it Wednesday afternoon, her answer was clear: Yes.
"This is a very, very serious matter and it was felt in that room today," Giessel said.
Sen. Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage, took issue with the conversation centralizing around the location of the session.
"It's a red herring. It's a diversion to remove the attention from the real issues," she told reporters after the floor session. "And the real issue is that these vetoes on top of the lack of a reverse sweep, which yields almost three-quarters of a billion dollars when you add it all up, is devastating to this state and the full impacts of that will only be understood over time and the unfortunate aspect of it is I don't feel that the administration is even making a remote effort to communicate what their thoughts are on those impacts."
Fairbanks Democratic Sen. Scott Kawasaki expressed frustration that his colleagues his Wasilla did not appear for the session in Juneau.
"We gaveled in... and we started hearing stories from across the state. People who were losing out on their senior benefits, people who are worried about Pioneer Home pricing, who are worried about whether their kids are going to be able to go to college in the fall and these stories were very compelling to me and I gotta say, it was great to hear the stories from the folks who were in the building talking to us while we were on the floor," Kawasaki said.
"The one thing that frustrated me the most though, as soon as we got off the floor and we had 10-minute lunch break, I saw photos of the 20 others hanging out a diner in Wasilla with the governor, not listening to all of the stories that were delivered about the people who are struggling," he said.
Debate on the floor prior to the Wednesday afternoon vote consisted of similarly strong sentiment.
Fairbanks Democratic Rep. Adam Wool noted the magnitude of the cuts Dunleavy proposed for the University of Alaska, totaling more than $130 million in a single fiscal year.
"It would eviscerate the university as we know it," Wool said. "In our community, the university is a huge pillar of the community, of the economy, of culture."
Rep. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, also emphasized the long-term injuries the university would sustain if the budget cuts go through.
"It will not take one year, it will not take five years, it will take 10 or 20 years to rebuild the university," he said.
Claman criticized Dunleavy for the "punitive" cut against the Alaska Court System as a result of the Supreme Court's ruling that it is unconstitutional to limit state Medicaid funding from going toward elective abortions.
"He is trying to punish them for exercising their independence, and we should never stand for that," Claman said. "We must stand tall as a separate branch of government and recognize that the strength and independence of the judiciary is just as important as the strength and independence of this body."
Fairbanks Democratic Rep. Grier Hopkins began tearing up as he noted that Fairbanks youth homeless shelter The Door will likely close as a result of the budget vetoes.
"These vetoes, they don’t make Alaska safer, they don’t make Alaska smarter, and they don’t make Alaska stronger economically," Hopkins said. "We have to protect our economy as elected officials, to make sure we have a healthy and booming state. ... These vetoes don't do that from the highest level to the smallest."
Fairbanks Republican Rep. Steve Thompson, noted to colleagues that he very rarely stands to speak on the House floor.
"But I just can't believe what's happening to our state... Everybody will be touched by these vetoes," Thompson said. "We have to push back and say enough is enough... We have to tell the governor we're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore."
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.