Southeast legislators fail to save vetoed projects

Johansen: Vetoes didn't save state any money; they were funded by cruise ship tax revenue

Posted: Tuesday, August 11, 2009

ANCHORAGE - A surprise attempt to override former Gov. Sarah Palin's vetoes, with the exception of the much-debated federal stimulus money, failed in Monday's special session in Anchorage, possibly because of the lack of time for debate.

The Legislature, meeting in joint session, voted 40-19 to override, but needed 45 to be successful.

Palin's vetoes were heavily concentrated in Southeast Alaska, and included multiple projects in Sitka Republican Sen. Bert Stedman's district, which also includes Ketchikan.

"There doesn't seem to be any justification for these vetoes to have happened," said Rep. Beth Kerttula, who joined with every Southeast member of both Houses in voting for the unsuccessful override.

After the vote, Rep. Cathy Muñoz said additional override attempts hadn't been on the session agenda, and many legislators seemed unwilling to support them without more debate.

Kerttula said it probably would have taken a multiday session, likely held in Juneau, to have a series of committee hearings that would have provided enough information for more legislators to support an override.

The two Juneau representatives said the additional override attempts mainly included projects that would be funded with cruise ship head taxes, so the money will be available for future projects.

Palin's veto of four projects in Sitka and Ketchikan may have been a result of her unhappiness with Stedman, some legislators suggested. Stedman, co-chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, was a frequent critic of Palin before, during and after her vice-presidential campaign.

"I think these vetoes were a little bit targeted and were targeted at projects that were most deserving," said Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, who is a committee co-chair along with Stedman.

Rep. Kyle Johansen, R-Ketchikan, the House majority leader, said the vetoes did not save the state any money because they were funded by cruise ship tax revenue, which is slated to be spent on projects that support the cruise ship industry directly, such as new docks and other amenities.

Johansen said he was not going to draw any conclusions about why Palin vetoed the projects Stedman sought, but received laughs when he said "I happen to get along quite well with the co-chair."

Johansen said he sought an explanation from Palin and Office of Management and Budget Director Karen Rehfeld about why the vetoes happened.

"Obviously, I couldn't get ahold of the governor," he said. "The budget director had absolutely no idea why the projects were vetoed."

Cruise ship head tax money is required by federal law to be spent in connection with the impacts of the cruise ship passengers, Hoffman said.

"This tax was levied with the expectations that we would provide services with those fees," he said.

Critics of the head tax have used the state's failure to spend all the money it collected from the tax as part of their argument for its repeal.

Also in the list of projects in the override attempt was a courthouse renovation in Anchorage and improvements to the electronic CourtView record-keeping system.

Hoffman said both projects were important as well, and needed to be funded soon.

Under state law, a veto can only be overridden with five days of the start of the next legislative session after the veto. Had the Legislature not attempted the override of the additional projects, it would have lost the chance to do so, legislators said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or by e-mail at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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