Wednesday was a banner day for the Alaska Legislature with a stunningly underwhelming economic “analysis” of the state budget delivered after weeks of waiting and fireworks—and perhaps a few of those cascading card waterfalls when you win solitaire—flew at confirmation hearings all while students rallied against education cuts.
Here’s just a bit of what happened on
Day 52 Day 51 (it felt like two).
Shaw faces reckoning
Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s appointee to the Commission on Judicial Conduct Trevor Shaw faced tough questioning from the Senate Judiciary Committee during his Wednesday confirmation hearing. Shaw resigned from the president of the Ketchikan School Board before voters could recall him for his handling of sexual assault complaints—that turned into charges and the arrest—of teacher Doug Edwards.
Shaw continued to dodge responsibility for the case, saying that he was free of wrongdoing and that he was perhaps the one who had been wronged.
“Even to my own detriment I protected the interest of the school board, I protected the confidentiality that we were sworn to,” he said. “To my own detriment. To make sure that the public involvement was uncensored and unobstructed to ensure that people knew the information was being heard and was being considered in the decision-making process.”
For the record, one of the complaints that surrounded the recall was because Shaw refused to allow a student speak about at a school board meeting, allegedly about the case.
The toughest line of questioning came from Sen. Peter Micciche, the Soldotna Republican who’s spearheading a bill to close loopholes in Alaska’s sexual assault laws.
“It seems like you were on the board for all seven incidents. As a parent, I’m struggling to see how the individual made it through report number two without losing his job. There are some details here that are disturbing that were largely ignored,” he said. “By 2013, as a parent and a policymaker, this person should have been removed that day from his service and should have never been allowed in an Alaska school again.
“As the reports continued and the investigations continued, I wonder how many victims or how many additional young people were victimized because the district and the school board essentially ignored the repeated occurrences that happened in seven different incidents,” he said. “I guess, the question I have is what policies were being created by the school board, when you were president, to intervene in this situation?”
Shaw gave a lengthy answer that essentially laid blame on the administration for hiding the report.
Micciche was unimpressed.
“OK, so I didn’t get anything on policy,” said an exasperated Micciche. “He was going to continue through the end of the school year—Edwards was going to continue through the end of the school year.”
Other legislators also voiced concerns about Shaw’s ability to serve on the commission, but Micciche distilled it down in the following comment:
“I’m looking at a report that’s very disturbing, I have four daughters,” he said. “How can we expect you to adequately provide processes to evaluate judicial conduct when we look at this failure to intervene in obvious conduct issues at the Ketchikan School District?”
The allegations surrounding it have been well-reported by local media, but were highlighted by the Alaska Landmine and here at The Midnight Sun. Shaw claimed that both the outlets had a vendetta against him for the handling of a labor contract, which was the first we heard about any such thing.
We’ll have more to say on that soon, but Landmine editor Jeff Landfield (who coincidentally was also disqualified for the commission over speedo pictures) testified to the committee that it had nothing to do with labor contracts.
We were more concerned about, you know, the sexual abuse of minors, but that’s just us.
UA President fires back
Earlier this week, Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy sent a letter to University of Alaska employees and students telling them, comfortingly, that his $134 million cut to state funding shouldn’t be viewed as a 41 percent cut to state funding, but a 17 percent cut to their total funding (which includes tuition and federal funding that happen to rely on the state funding).
UA President Jim Johnsen fired back on Wednesday with his own letter, detailed in a story published by the News-Miner.
“The governor justifies cuts to education, health care and other government services by citing a $1.6 billion deficit,” Johnsen wrote. “However, the budget proposal includes a $1.9 billion appropriation for PFDs. This budget then is a policy choice for Alaskans, not a fiscal necessity.”
The administration responded by accusing Johnsen of wanting to take away dividends. Neat.
Regent John Davies, a former legislator, also weighed in on the issue:
“There’s a modicum of factualness in that it’s true that $134 million is 17 percent of our current budget,” said. “But the other lines in the budget the governor refers to, the tuition receipts and research money, those will be reduced as a result of this cut in state funding.”
Local governments could dissolve, but ‘I don’t know’
The headline from the day was, of course, the less-than-stellar performance of Office of Management and Budget economist Ed King. We broke it down here and the AKLedger’s recap has even more details you get when you’re not flittering between hearings like we do, including this exchange between Rep. Tammie Wilson and King:
“Mr. King, I’m a little confused because I thought this presentation was the economic impact analysis for the governor’s proposed fiscal plan,” Wilson said after King had talked for an hour. “Is there some place in the presentation that you’re actually going to give us the economic impact of the budget that’s before us?”
“Nobody knows the answer to that question,” King replied. “ISER doesn’t know. I don’t know. Nobody knows exactly how the future is going to unfold. I wish that I could give you an answer to that question. All of those proposals are all being evaluated by their own departments.”
It appears that the administration and King seem to think that the Legislature is asking for the precise, down-to-the-job impact of the budget. They’re not. They’re obviously not, and to assume so is to intentionally obscure the discussion.
Some could call it gaslighting.
What they’re looking for is an understanding of what Sen. Natasha von Imhof described Wednesday as “the broad strokes.” Even a range of what might happen would probably help a lot of legislators sleep better at night. Where’s the backup for the claims that private sector growth will far outpace the losses to the public sector?
Anyways, when King did speak about a possible range of outcomes for local government it included this alarming throwaway line:
“We don’t know exactly how local governments are going to react to the proposals if they were to pass. We might expect that some local governments raise taxes, we might expect that some local governments make budget cuts, we might expect some local governments dissolve,” he said before plowing ahead. “We don’t really know how all of that plays out. … We don’t know what local governments are going to do.”
He added that the Alaska Municipal League is doing its own analysis of the impacts, noting “they’re much more equipped to have this kind of analysis than I would pretend to know.” (Why would you admit that?)
“Mr. King, I think the most striking thing I think you said is that some local governments might dissolve?” an incredulous Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, asked. “Is that what you said?”
“I have no idea what the local governments are going to do, but it is an option so I would not throw that as something that’s not possible,” King replied. “I don’t know. That’s a decision those local governments would have to make.”
“I think the point is made for me,” Josephson replied.
King deleted his Twitter account by the end of the day. Lame.
Also, just how accurate is ISER?
King’s presentation seemed to largely be aimed at undermining the credibility of the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Institute of Social and Economic Research, which is scheduled to present to the Legislature today, basically arguing that economics is basically an unknowable art so why even try.
One reader pointed out to us that ISER has reviewed its own accuracy, and it’s not all that off:
What we’re reading
- Alaska Public Media reporter Wesley Early’s thread on public media in rural Alaska
- In case you were wondering, the public is still largely opposed to Marijuana Control Board appointee Vivian Stiver, via the News-Miner: Public testimony swings against Stiver nomination for marijuana board
Tweet of the Day
— Kevin Baird (@alaska_kev) March 7, 2019
Solitaire is pretty fun, but have you tried Disney Emoji Blitz?