Alaska Legislature split on budget vetoes, PFDs — and where to meet

Senate President Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, and Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, talk to reporters during the first day of the Legislature’s second special session on Monday in Juneau. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

Alaska legislators gathered in two different places on Monday, with different messages about state law, permanent fund dividends and Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s line-item budget vetoes.

Most lawmakers convened at the Capitol in Juneau, while a group of Republicans aligned with Dunleavy gathered at Wasilla Middle School.

In Juneau

Senate President Cathy Giessel said there are enough lawmakers in Juneau for the Legislature to conduct business.

“Government is perking along as it should, in the seat of government which is also identified in the (Alaska) Constitution,” she said.

The Senate’s majority caucus voted to replace Majority Leader Mia Costello, a Republican, with Bethel Democrat Lyman Hoffman. Costello broke with her caucus and decided to meet with the lawmakers in Wasilla.

The House Finance Committee also met briefly Monday afternoon, rolling out a bill that would pay a $1,600 permanent fund dividend.

But they’re pivoting almost immediately to addressing Dunleavy’s budget vetoes. Both the House and Senate have meetings scheduled on Tuesday to talk about the impact of those vetoes. They’ve also scheduled a vote on Wednesday to potentially override those vetoes.

But the group in Juneau still lacks the votes needed to override the line-item vetoes that Dunleavy issued.

In Wasilla

Seventeen House members and four senators — all Republicans — met at Wasilla Middle School. Their leaders said it’s the only place a legitimate session can be held, because it’s where Dunleavy called it.

Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, in 2017. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Costello spoke in Wasilla shortly before she was removed from her position as Senate majority leader.

“If you’re serious about the work that we have left, this is where it can happen. It can happen legally here,” she said. “And so it’s our hope that those who are in Juneau will join us here in Wasilla.”

Seats were arranged in the hot Wasilla Middle School gym for all 60 legislators to hold a session. But there weren’t enough members present to hold a session.

It’s not clear what might bring the two different sets of lawmakers together in the same location.

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