The letters came off the printer on Tuesday afternoon with the regularity of a ticking clock.
There is now one month remaining before Alaska’s state government, starved of funding, shuts down. On Tuesday, state employees were warned of that July 1 deadline by email.
“If we must do a government shutdown, this will impact your employment status with the state of Alaska,” said the email, sent by Sheldon Fisher, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Administration.
In the bowels of the State Office Building, a handful of state employees readied the formal letters that will provide contractual warning to all of Alaska’s public employees.
“We are required to give 10 (days), but it’s ideal to give 30,” said Kate Sheehan, deputy director of the Alaska Department of Administration and the person in charge of personnel issues.
While most employees have been following the news from the Capitol — or the lack of it — Sheehan said some temporary workers or remote workers may not be able to connect.
“We just have so many employees, especially in the summer, who don’t have access to our email,” she said. “To ensure we touch everyone and comply with contracts, we do it by mail.”
According to Department of Administration figures, there are 15,127 state employees across Alaska, and just over 3,000 in Juneau.
On Tuesday, the printing effort to warn those employees started about 10:30 a.m. on the fifth floor of the SOB.
“It’s about a six-hour process for me to print them,” said Chris White, the state’s data processing manager. “We’ll hopefully finish up about 6 o’clock tonight.”
After the printing comes a day or day and a half of envelope stuffing, then the notices head to the Juneau Post Office and out to mailboxes across Alaska.
This is the third consecutive year the Alaska Department of Administration has had to muster a warning effort.
In 2015, Alaska lawmakers approved a operating budget in May but failed to figure out how to pay for it until June 11, 10 days after the state warned its employees.
The next year, lawmakers reached a budget deal on Memorial Day, in time to stop the state from mailing the warnings.
“In prior years it’s been a go/no-go right up until the final moment,” White said.
“This year doesn’t have that feeling at all,” said Minta Montalbo, a spokeswoman for the Department of Administration.
In 2017, a budget deal seems distant. As Montalbo spoke, the Alaska House of Representatives held a technical session before adjourning until Friday. Fewer than half the seats in the chamber were filled.
Lawmakers in the majority that runs the House and lawmakers in the majority that run the Senate remain divided about how to solve the state’s multibillion-dollar deficit.
If there is no agreement before July 1, the consequences are titanic. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which manages the state’s salmon fisheries, will withdraw its workers from camps intended to govern the commercial harvest. The multibillion-dollar salmon fishery will be extraordinarily limited or stopped altogether.
The state-run Alaska Marine Highway will shut down, isolating Juneau and island communities throughout Southeast Alaska.
Pothole crews will hang up their shovels, and public assistance programs for food stamps and other aid will close.
If the state follows its 2015 playbook, troopers will stay on duty, but everyone else will go home and stay there until the Legislature passes a budget. Following a shutdown, employees will be allowed to come back to work without re-interviewing for their jobs. It will be like a furlough, something many state employees are already required to endure.
The state of Alaska has never endured a total government shutdown.
“We’re pretty confident they’re going to get their jobs done,” Montalbo said. “I mean, they have to. There’s huge implications if they don’t.”
• Contact reporter James Brooks at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 419-7732.