Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Last Call For Baked Alaska

If you thought Sarah Palin was the worst governor in the history of Alaska, Republican Mike Dunleavy's line item vetoes are making Palin look like Bernie Sanders by comparison, as he's cut nearly $450 million from the state's budget (a 10% austerity whack on top of steep cuts made by the state's Republican legislature) that targets everything from the University of Alaska to Medicaid funding to a petty move to cut funding for the state's court system after the state's supreme court ruled abortion was protected by the state constitution.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Friday cut $444 million from Alaska’s state’s operating budget, slashing services beyond the cuts already made by the Alaska Legislature in order to move closer to a balanced budget without raising taxes or reducing the Permanent Fund dividend.

The action drew immediate and impassioned criticism from many Alaskans, including those who rely on those services and those who provide them, and there were calls on lawmakers to override the vetoes. But the governor also drew praise from Alaskans who believe state government is too large.

The University of Alaska is the biggest target of Dunleavy’s line-item veto pen, losing $130 million in state support atop the $5 million cut approved earlier by lawmakers. The resulting reduction is nearly 41% of the state’s support for the university system. University officials said the cuts would be devastating to the UA system.

“I believe they’re going to be able to work through this ... I don’t believe they can be all things to all people, and I think that’s generally speaking, the state of Alaska. We can’t continue to be all things for all people,” the governor said Friday morning in a news conference that was broadcast statewide.

For the fiscal year that starts July 1, Medicaid spending was reduced by $50 million, the state’s senior benefits program was eliminated, a cruise ship pollution inspector program was eliminated, the Village Public Safety Officer program lost $3 million in funding and most state support for public broadcasting was erased.

The Legislature can override those decisions, but only if three-quarters of its 60 members agree. The deadline for an override is the fifth day of the special session that begins July 8.

Alaska House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, said the governor’s budget presents an “imminent threat" to Alaskans.

“The fundamental question is now squarely before Alaskans. What’s more important: a healthy economy, our schools, university, and seniors, or doubling the Permanent Fund Dividend at the expense of essential state services? The governor has made his choice clear,” Edgmon wrote.

We'll see if legislators want to overrule the cuts, but I wouldn't hold out too much hope for that.  The list of Dunleavy's cuts are here, and thousands of University of Alaska employees are already being furloughed because the vetoes and the fact that the fiscal year started yesterday means there's no money to pay them.

Welcome to Kansas, Alaska!

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