AKLEG Day 30: Republicans, Democrats push back against Dunleavy’s cuts to school, seniors and rural Alaska

Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy in a prepared video address announcing his budget on Feb. 13, 2019.

What a day.

Just 60 days left.

Push back

Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s budget sure delivered the cuts.

There’s plenty of push back from Democrats and the public, but thanks to the governor’s avoidance of using a draw from the Constitutional Budget Reserve (meaning everything can get done with a majority vote) it’ll take at least a few Republicans to put a wrench into his plans (not to mention to serve as a bulwark against the line item veto).

Perhaps the most interesting push back comes from Fairbanks-area Republicans Sen. Click Bishop and Rep. Steve Thompson, who told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that many of the cuts to the University of Alaska, education and seniors were simply non-starters for them. Bishop, a moderate labor-friendly Republican, already raised the elephant in the room: The fully funded PFD.

“I have no problem paying a statutorily driven dividend if the company is making money, but when the company is deficit spending I don’t support paying the full dividend,” he said. “I’m not going to balance the budget to pay a full dividend when we’re taking away money from the university and schools and seniors.”

Seniors and schools seemed to both be big sticking points for Bishop. In addition to deep cuts to state funding for schools, Dunleavy has proposed hiking fees it collects from seniors living in Alaska Pioneer Homes to completely cover the cost of the program as well as eliminating the Senior Benefit Program.

“And our seniors? God bless our seniors. We need to take care of those pioneers that came here to this state,” he said. “I refuse to balance the budget on their backs.”

Here’s how that Senior Benefit Program works:

The cuts are looking particularly grim for the University of Alaska, where balancing the proposed cuts would require doubling tuition or firing 1,300 employees or straight up closing both its Anchorage and Juneau campuses. Closing the system’s rural campuses would hardly put a ding in the budget.

“I’m confident we will need to close campuses if this budget makes it all the way through the legislative process,” said UA President Jim Johnsen.

The impacts to the university brought back bad memories for Thompson.

“I’m thinking back to the 1980s when oil went to $8 a barrel and the state cut university funding and not even this much; it decimated the university. It took them 10 years to recover,” Thompson told the News-Miner. “And back then if you look at Texas, their oil dropped and they slashed budgets all over the state, but they didn’t cut the university…. Now the best doctors in the U.S are the graduates out of the Texas university. Texas saw that their future was in the university system, and we’re going in the opposite direction and that’s very concerning.”

Of course there are other Republicans who’ve taken a more friendly line to the governor’s proposed budget and others that have sought to reassure Alaskans that it’s only a starting place.

Budgets are moral documents

“Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden

With that in mind, here’s what Sen. Donny Olsen, a Golovin Democrat who’s been an outspoken critic of Dunleavy and his budget director Donna Arduin:

“It deepens the divide between the haves and the have nots,” he said. “It strikes rural Alaskans more acutely, forcing them to leave their communities and head to the metropolitan center.”

Dunleavy’s also proposed a change to state law that would snatch all oil and gas property taxes away from the municipalities along the pipeline route. It’d poke multimillion-dollar holes in loads of budget, but none would be hit nearly as hard as the North Slope Borough, which collects about $372 million a year in such taxes.

Edgmon undeclared

The 30th Legislature’s House Speaker Bryce Edgmon quietly changed his party affiliation to undeclared on Wednesday, a move that almost certainly has to do with efforts to pull together a coalition. The former Democrat declined to comment on the change to the Associated Press, but it’s likely that Republicans who’re considering crossing over are refusing to elect a Democrat as a permanent speaker of the House.

Will it matter to the people who these sorts of things matter? Probably not, but if it’s what it takes to pull things together than so be it.

Gov. Bill Walker dropped his Republican party affiliation as part of the negotiations to form the unity party ticket in the 2014 elections.

Tweet of the morning

What we’re reading

More from TMS

1 Comment on "AKLEG Day 30: Republicans, Democrats push back against Dunleavy’s cuts to school, seniors and rural Alaska"

  1. Oh goody, the Uniparty of RINO’s and lefties bringing out their claws against Dunleavy for keeping his campaign promises to the people of alaska. The entire legislature should be fired. Bunch of scumbags and traitors.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.