Monday’s special session in Wasilla wasn’t just a meeting for Alaska’s Republican legislators.
It also gave road system Alaskans a chance to offer their opinions about the huge dilemma facing lawmakers right now: whether to uphold Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s major line-item budget vetoes, which would cut hundreds of millions in state spending on programs like its university system, cash payments to the elderly and early education.
Dozens of citizen lobbyists turned out, first lining a stretch of the Parks Highway before walking to Wasilla Middle School, where they greeted lawmakers with dueling chants: “Save our state,” “Follow the law,” and “Override!”
The demonstrators along the highway had gathered for an event in support of Dunleavy. One was Steven VinZant, 57, who held a “Save the PFD” sign. He said he supports the line-item vetoes because of what he sees as inefficiencies and high salaries in state government, including the university system, which would lose $130 million if the vetoes are upheld.
“There are some awful big beautiful buildings that cost an awful lot of money that could have been more utilitarian,” VinZant said, referring to the university campus. “We could have more books, more computers, if we didn’t have grandioso buildings for millions of dollars.”
Many of the demonstrators were from the Mat-Su, which is one of the most conservative areas of the state. But VinZant wasn’t. He drove three-and-a-half hours to Wasilla from his home in Soldotna, where he’s worked as an adjunct professor at the state university system.
VinZant said he’s a little worried about what the steep budget veto to the university could mean for his students. But he also said he’s on their side in trying to stop lawmakers from reducing the Permanent Fund dividend, as they have in the past few years.
“I’m fighting for the fact that $3,000 of your school money was stolen from you,” he said. “And they’re looking at stealing more.”
Others who lobbied lawmakers to override the vetoes met the opposing protestors outside Wasilla Middle School, where lawmakers were meeting. The two groups squared off along a pathway into the school.
Some of the veto critics delivered their messages to lawmakers delicately. But Dave Musgrave of Palmer, a retired professor, sent his with a threat.
“Ten percent of my PFD will go to defeat any Mat-Su delegate who votes for the vetoes,” he said. “I know how hard those people at the university work. And the state is cutting off their nose to spite their face in this case.”
In spite of that, Musgrave says he’s been having respectful discussions about the vetoes with one of the Mat-Su’s senators, Republican Mike Shower of Wasilla.
“We have a reasonable conversation,” he said. But, he added: “I’d like to see Mike move more towards our direction.”