News-Miner opinion: Alaska is going through tremendous political upheaval now, something that germinated just a few years ago with the state’s worsening financial situation.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy quickened the turmoil not long after winning election in November. He did it first with his proposed deep cuts to state spending. And he did it again by using his line-item veto authority to enforce those cuts over the objections of the Legislature, which had passed a vastly different and less austere budget.
The turbulence continued with a dispute between the governor and legislative leaders over the location of a special session of the Legislature, called by the governor. A majority of the members met in Juneau; about 20 others, aligned with the governor, met in the governor’s designated location of Wasilla.
More unrest came as the main group of legislators in Juneau tried, but failed, to override those vetoes. There simply weren’t enough legislators there to meet the high threshold of a three-quarters vote — 30 members — to override a veto in a spending bill.
The Legislature has been unable to pass a public works budget, which is tangled up in a disagreement between those who favor a smaller dividend because of the state’s financial situation and those — the governor and his supporters in the Legislature — who argue a larger dividend of $3,000 should be paid out because that’s what the formula set out in state law calls for.
And time is running out to get a capital budget passed before Alaska loses out on about $900 million in federal matching dollars for construction projects around the state. It has to get done by Wednesday, or else.
So you see, a lot has transpired since the 31st Alaska Legislature first convened on Jan. 15 for a regular 90-day session scheduled to end May 15. Lawmakers are now in their second special session, and, as readers can note, a lot remains unresolved.
Yes, Alaska is in political upheaval all right.
So it is in times like these that it is essential that Alaskans be able to know that all 60 legislators are on the job. Unfortunately, too many legislators have been missing in action. Too often votes are taken with several members officially excused.
Most of the trouble is with the House, which is governed by a bipartisan majority coalition. The minority caucus consists of 16 Republicans who are largely in tune with Gov. Dunleavy’s approach to the state fiscal problems.
Most of those who have been missing are part of that GOP minority caucus, though a few majority Democrats have been excused.
Too many have been away from center stage lately. For example, 10 House members were missing for Thursday’s debate about a dividend bill. Six were missing for Friday’s vote on that legislation. Seven were missing for several votes on the capital budget earlier this month. Eleven were missing last week for votes during debate on an appropriations bill.
Legitimate reasons exist for being excused, certainly. Illness and family situations do occur. Some legislators have businesses that need attention.
What can’t be tolerated, especially in this critical moment for Alaska, are legislators who stay away from the place they are supposed to be at — the Capitol building — because they are trying to either make a political point or because they are afraid of giving an opinion, whatever it may be.