11:13 a.m. update: Added additional background on Arduin’s time as the budget director.
11:38 a.m. update: Added confirmation from the governor’s office, details about the potential contract for adviser and other potential changes.
Donna Arduin’s time as Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s budget director is over.
Word of the budget hawk’s departure spread through legislative circles this morning, culminating in confirmation by Chief of Staff Ben Stevens in a call with reporters this morning. Stevens said the decision was “made unanimously within the leadership of the governor’s office.”
He said the change had nothing to do with the recall effort, which has been fueled in large part by the deep, draconian cuts contained in the budget the Arduin oversaw.
Steven said Arduin has the option to continue on in an advisory role with the administration “at a reduced compensation rate” to advise on budgetary issues. He said any details of such a contract have not yet been discussed or finalized with Arduin, who is currently outside Alaska on personal business.
“If she decides to continue in the role it will be a reduced position from where she is now,” he said. “We can’t force her into a contract and she can’t force us into a contract either. So, we’re going to work together to try to find a mutual agreement where she’ll provider her services at a limited basis from where it is now going forward as we develop a budget.”
Arduin made $195,000 per year as the director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Former Chief of Staff Tuckerman Babcock also moved into an advisory role after losing his position to Ben Stevens this summer. Babcock officially left the administration entirely on Aug. 30.
Stevens explained the change as a natural evolution for the administration as it settles in.
He said that moving forward commissioners will be more closely involved in the development of their budgets. Commissioners had generally been cut out of the budgeting process during Arduin’s time in office, creating internal conflicts and conflicts with the Legislature, which was frequently frustrated by the state’s inability to explain its decision-making.
“Commissioners will take a more prominent role, no question. It’s just an evolution of the process,” he said.
Cuts on cuts on cuts
As the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Arduin oversaw the budget for the governor and amassed an unusual amount of power while doing so.
One of Dunleavy’s first official actions as governor was to move all department-level budgeters directly into Arduin’s office, effectively severing every department’s connection with the budgeting process. The Arduin-written budget also included provisions that would have given the Office of Management and budget the unprecedented power to move money around within a department’s budget.
Those provisions, which would have effectively cut the Legislature out of the budgeting process, were immediately axed by the Legislature before the budget was passed.
That was far from the only problems the Legislature—and the public in general—had with Arduin’s time at the helm of the state’s budgeting process. In addition to steep, draconian cuts, the Legislature frequently had trouble getting any explanation from the administration about the reasoning behind Dunleavy and Arduin’s budget.
When it came to the potential impact that any cuts would have on local communities, Arduin and her staff said it wasn’t the state’s concern.
The Dunleavy and Arduin budget, which steep cuts peppered throughout the state including for K-12 education, proved to be the catalyst for a bipartisan coalition in the House, breaking a month-long stalemate over which party should hold control of the chamber.
Talk about the budget had been reduced to a simmer since the governor signed the second round of budgets passed by the Legislature, delivering fewer vetoes than in his first round, but the pressure was renewed when word got out that OMB was looking for more cuts.