Alaska Legislature fails to override vetoes of school bond reimbursement, ferries

Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D- Bethel, speaks during a joint session of the Alaska Legislature on Friday. He was advocating for an override of budget vetoes Gov. Mike Dunleavy issued in August that cut funds to the Alaska Marine Highway and school bond debt. (Photo by Skip Gray/KTOO)

The Legislature failed on Friday to override Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s vetoes of funding for school bond debt reimbursement, rural school construction and the ferry system. 

The vote was 37 in favor of the override, and 20 against it. That fell short of the 45 votes needed for an override. Alaska requires the highest share of lawmakers to vote for budget veto overrides of any state.

Bethel Democratic Sen. Lyman Hoffman voted for the override. He said shifting the cost of school construction to municipalities puts local officials in a difficult position. He raised the possibility that local officials would have to choose between classroom teachers and paying bonds, before imagining what they would do if they were in the Legislature. 

“If I was sitting here, as a school board member, voting, I would have no other choice — no other choice if I’m going to stand up for education — but to press the green button,” Hoffman said, referring to the yes button on members’ desks. 

Big Lake Republican Rep. Mark Neuman voted against the override. He said his constituents are willing to forgo bond debt reimbursement to reduce state spending. That’s despite the Matanuska-Susitna Borough growing by roughly 400 children annually.

“That’s a new school every year,” Neuman said. “But the people in the Mat-Su have said, ‘You know, we’ll get by with what we got. We’ll make it work.’” 

Dunleavy administration officials have noted that school districts statewide have $500 million in reserve accounts.  Override supporters have said much of that money is committed for other expenses or is needed to maintain local bond ratings.

Administration officials also have said he’ll propose roughly $12 million for the ferry system as part of a supplemental budget bill in early February. 

Kodiak Republican Rep. Louise Stutes voted for the override. She said the override is a separate issue from the supplemental budget.

“There was more testimony and support of increased ferry funding this last year than there was of any other issue,” Stutes said. 

Palmer Republican Sen. Shelley Hughes voted against the override. She said she knows the ferry veto isn’t easy for coastal communities. 

“But we make lifestyle choices — that’s the unique and great thing about this state,” she said. “We have a diversity, a diverse place to live, and when you choose to live on an island, there are things associated with that. When you choose to live where there are no roads, there are transportation issues you have to deal with.”

The Legislature took the vote during a joint session, a day ahead of the constitutional deadline. 

Every member of the multiparty House majority and the Democratic Senate minority voted for the override. Every member from the Republican House minority who was present voted against it. The largely Republican Senate majority split, with seven voting for the override and six against it. Anchorage Republican Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, who isn’t in a caucus, voted for it.