The Legislature Needs Your Help to Create a Super Majority

By Mike Bradner, Speaker of the House (1975-76), House of Representatives (1966-1976), Publisher of Alaska Legislative Digest and Alaska Economic Report

Mike Bradner

Our schools are on Gov. Dunleavy’s chopping block in 2020. We know this because the governor and his sidekick, OMB Director Donna Arduin, have said so. This is pretty frightening given the governor’s brutal treatment of University funding.

However, at least we know it’s coming and that’s some small advantage. The governor’s wrecking ball use of the veto power is unprecedented, here or elsewhere, and is a serious violation of separation of powers. The Alaska constitutional provision of a three-quarter vote to override makes it almost impossible for the Legislature to override and act as a reasoned check on the governor’s fiscal reductions.

The governor has created a political environment that isn’t normal. The way politics works, this then allows political response that need not be normal, you don’t have to be quite so circumspect.

The question is what can “we” do, and how can “we” do it!

The short answer is school advocates have to expand their ranks, and they have to do what they have always done, and that’s bang on legislators’ doors. It’s the legislative door that’s open. However, this time around the “we” of school advocates need more than legislative majorities, given the governor’s veto power, they need super majorities. Lawmakers have to sense the intensity of the school constituencies.

We normally exercise our “we” through our various associations. They then “normally” petition the powers that be on our behalf. They are limited, however, because they must deal with those in power on a daily basis. They must be circumspect in their advocacy. In this fight that’s brewing they need the help of school activists a step beyond official organizations.

Note our use of the word  “normally.” What Governor Dunleavy is doing is far from normal. Our budget situation is not normal; our revenue sources are not normal. What this means is that the response need not be normal. The Legislature has to feel the pressure, the intensity, and they must take on this intensity and market that intensity before the public.

What has happened is that the governor is violating the basic principle of our American democracies – separation of powers. He is attempting to legislate by budget line item veto. Only eight states are considered to have strong line-item veto powers. However, we are the only state that requires a three-quarter vote to override. This coupled with our small legislative bodies and distinct regions, makes it easy for the governor to use the line-item veto to threaten and bully legislators.

In our state constitution we created our strong executive system to do battle with the federal government and outside interests in the development of our resources. The line-item veto got minimal attention in the deliberations of our constitutional founders. They never dreamed of a governor using this power to do what Dunleavy is doing.

The line item veto was never intended to impose sweeping cuts, actions that reach back in time and dismember longstanding policy. Generally, our governors have used the veto as a check on inappropriate capital projects and other funding that seemed questionable. However, by and large, this was confined to current legislative actions. Scanning the vetoes of our past governors, Walker, Parnell, Palin, and Knowles, we found few vetoes that sought to dismember or revise long-standing programs.

Quite aside from the defense of our schools we are in a constitutional crisis. The Legislature is called the peoples branch, it is comprised of the representatives of many interests. This is where the many publics are heard and where policy is crafted.

 It is the role of the Legislature to craft budgets and programs for our schools and other state functions. Governors might propose and assist, but it is legislatures that have to do it.

For information on Mike and Tim Bradner’s weekly Alaska Legislative Digest and biweekly Alaska Economic Report, CLICK HERE.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Association of Alaska School Boards. AASB welcomes diverse perspectives and civil discourse. To submit a Guest Column for consideration, see our Guest Column Guidelines and email your 400-1000 word submission HERE.