Alaskans are welcoming a bit of good news this week as Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy retreats left and right from the vetoes that he insisted were necessary under Alaska’s financial situation, vetoes that delivered on the budget cuts he proposed in his February budget.
But now Dunleavy claims the whole exercise was actually about starting a conversation with the public.
“You don’t get to this point unless you veto,” Dunleavy said after he promised he wouldn’t, for a second time, veto early education funding. “You don’t get the conversations that we had – that we’ve had the last several weeks, actually the last several months – unless you veto.”
There were conversations, yes, but Dunleavy was rarely ever a part of them.
Ask the legislators that spent the entirety of the session and the interminable special sessions attempting to understand the logic behind the cuts that would stick a knife into the heart of Alaska. Everywhere legislators looked, they were met with a frustrating lack of information about the reasoning for the cuts. When asked about the impacts, they were often told it’s not the administration’s job to worry about that kind of thing.
Ask the public who took hours out of their day to testify against the cuts at every opportunity or the seniors who saw their benefits erased overnight without warning (but don’t worry, he went back on that veto too). Ask the University of Alaska faculty, staff and students who’ve been riddled with anxiety, waiting for the axe to fall on their future.
Ask the people who’ve already made decisions to leave Alaska, to enroll in other universities, to take their families and their futures to states where their future won’t hinge on the political whims of a governor and his hired gun of a budget director.
“We listened,” he claimed when he announced he wouldn’t gut the state’s early education programs for a second time. “We didn’t dismiss any of that feedback at all.”
This is coming from a governor who went on his very own Americans for Prosperity-funded road trip where he claimed that the protests that would eventually turn into a recall effort were just people from special interest groups. Real Alaskans, he claimed, supported his budget and would show it if they just weren’t so busy working.
This summer has proved those claims wrong.
Dunleavy’s vetoes lit the fire under a recall effort, uniting coal executives and climate change researchers in a common cause.
The governor’s approach to the budget was never a conversation and his attempts to reframe the pain he’s wrought is laughable.
The “conversation” over the last few months has been thousands of Alaskans from across the political spectrum pleading for the governor to reconsider gutting Alaska’s future. For his part, his participation in this “conversation” has amounted to a series of unilateral threats, red pen theatrics and strong-armed attempts to consolidate power masked as deal-making.
And what is the end result of this “conversation” we’ve all apparently been having? That cutting senior benefits, gutting the university without vision and eliminating early education without a vision beyond “Big PFDs are good” isn’t popular? Anyone could have told you that months ago.
Now facing a recall threat and the potential to see his vetoes overridden by legislators, Dunleavy has changed his tune. In the face of an embarrassing defeat, the Dunleavy administration is changing course and apparently thinks it deserves plenty of praise for doing so.
As Dunleavy takes what appears to be a victory tour, crediting himself for the work brought on by others, Alaskans should not be quick to forget the senseless, unjustifiable pain he’s brought. And judging by the enthusiastic turnout in the past weeks to sign the Recall Dunleavy petition, they won’t.
But Alaska is far from the clear—far from the point where we can go back to not constantly worrying about the state of our state—as Dunleavy’s heavy-handed tactics are still very much alive. Frustrated that he can’t reach directly into the University of Alaska’s operations, Dunleavy has forced the UA Board of Regents to sign off on an agreement to mete out $70 million in additional cuts over the next three years.
Dunleavy is still pushing for changes to the state’s safety net programs and he’s apparently working behind the scenes to quietly usher Pebble Mine to completion. Even with the latest wave of vetoes delivered on the capital budget, the reasoning for many of the cuts didn’t extend beyond, “The state’s fiscal reality dictates a reduction in expenditures across all agencies.”
This isn’t a change in course, but a moment where Alaskans have put their foot down.
The credit should be given to Alaskans who’ve organized to make their voices heard and to legislators who restored the cuts. Without their collective work, Dunleavy’s vetoes would have stood, forcing Alaskans from business owners to students to seniors to the needy and in-crisis to watch as the state bled out.