The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute put on a tasting event for buyers and food media writers during the recent trade trip to China organized by Gov. Bill Walker. (Photo/Courtesy/Anchorage Economic Development Corp.)

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute put on a tasting event for buyers and food media writers during the recent trade trip to China organized by Gov. Bill Walker. (Photo/Courtesy/Anchorage Economic Development Corp.)

State departments have an eye toward budget hikes

Legislative and governor candidates have vowed across the state to further cut Alaska’s budget, but many state departments drafting their budget requests for the coming fiscal year are going in a different direction.

On Friday, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute became the latest state-supported agency to warn that budget cuts have reached their limit and in some places have gone too far.

In an unusual statement, the public-private partnership said it will be requesting $3.75 million more from the state in the coming year.

“There’s only so much you can do to squeeze down on the role and responsibilities of state government, and as far as others, there’s some departments looking at increments … I guess mostly in programs that will pay long-term benefits,” said Mike Navarre, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Commerce, which controls ASMI’s budget.

An “increment,” in the jargon of the state, is a budget increase.

“We used to invest in seafood marketing. We’re looking to do it again,” Navarre said.

For the current fiscal year, the state budget is $11.277 billion, according to figures from the nonpartisan Legislative Finance Division. That includes $1 billion for Permanent Fund Dividends, $1.45 billion for construction and renovation projects in the capital budget, and $9.77 billion for operations.

In an analysis released in August, the Legislative Finance Division warned that keeping the budget flat will cost $200 million more in revenue, partially because the Legislature used so many one-time accounts to make ends meet.

With the money in those accounts (about $77.5 million) gone, the state will need to find new sources of cash.

In addition, the Legislature deliberately underfunded Medicaid services by $50 million and pledged to put more money toward K-12 education and the retirement system for state employees.

Lawmakers will need to pay for all of that if they want to keep the budget flat. Many state departments aren’t asking for flat funding, however. They’re like ASMI: They’re asking for more, hoping that the fiscal climate is right.

Oil prices have risen since the Alaska Legislature approved the state budget this spring, and — barring another dip in prices or production — the price may be high enough to erase a projected budget deficit. The state could even run a small surplus.

Since 1981, the state has levied a small tax on seafood landings in Alaska in order to pay for a cooperative marketing program. When Outside restaurants promote “wild Alaska salmon” or king crab, they’re buying into a reputation for quality and purity that ASMI has helped establish.

“We as Alaskans, we know that we have the best fish in the world, and it comes from the purest environments,” said ASMI spokesman Jeremy Woodrow. “What’s often forgotten is that there is a similar or identical competing species.”

ASMI’s mission is to preserve the reputation of Alaska seafood, but it is warning that budget cuts have endangered that mission. The ongoing trade war with China and international competition is making Alaska seafood less competitive on price. That means it needs to compete on quality, and that takes marketing.

In the past five years, the state’s support for ASMI (above and beyond the fish tax) has declined from $7.8 million to zero.

Those cuts have side effects as well. Without state funding, ASMI cannot match federal grants available for marketing. Those grants account for $4.5 million of ASMI’s remaining $20.6 million budget.

“We’re circling back and realizing that if it’s going to be a public-private partnership, there needs to be some public funds in this partnership,” Woodrow said.

ASMI’s requests for additional funding are believed to be typical of what is happening behind the scenes as state bureaucrats draft their budget plans. The Empire submitted a public records request for each department’s budget requests but was rejected by the governor’s office, which said those documents are protected under an aspect of the state records laws that locks up work in progress.

The first draft of state budget requests will not be published until December, but some departments, like ASMI, have made their preferences known. In regard to public safety, the requests are expected to include more funding for troopers, prosecutors and drug treatment programs.

The University of Alaska board of regents is finalizing its budget request at a meeting early next month. That request is expected to ask for more state funding as well.

None of these requests are final: The budget must be approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor before becoming effective. In this case, who that governor will be is unknown.

In the case of ASMI, Navarre said he believes it’s worth it to ask.

“In terms of the Alaska brand, ASMI has done — it’s a great example of a public-private partnership,” he said. “This is one that makes good sense.”

• Contact reporter James Brooks at or 523-2258.

More in News

(Juneau E
Aurora forecast for the week of Nov. 27

These forecasts are courtesy of the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute… Continue reading

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Friday, Dec. 8, 2023

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Emma Pokon, commissioner-designee of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, discusses wood stove pollution regulations affecting the Fairbanks-North Star Borough during a Nov. 26 forum. (Screenshot from video by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)
Newly designated state DEC commissioner strong supporter of Dunleavy’s challenge to federal authority

Emma Pokon, as state attorney, wrote legislation eliminating independent cruise monitoring program.

(Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Police calls for Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

(Photo by Valeriya / Getty Images Plus)
Negotiations to decide insurance status of Alaska patients of Providence affiliates

Three health care provider groups with Alaska’s largest hospital have notified the… Continue reading

Harborview Elementary School was briefly evacuated Friday after a bomb threat was received at midday, according to the Juneau Police Department. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire file photo)
Harborview Elementary School briefly evacuated after bomb threat

Police say incident appears connected to other threats at Alaska schools in recent months.

Michael Carter selects chips from a large box while Kalie Purkey wheels their 1-year-old daughter, Oaklynn Carter, along the row of tables at the Southeast Alaska Food Bank’s weekly food pantry on Thursday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
‘New normal’ is long waits for SNAP benefits and long lines at food pantries

Juneau residents cite variety of reasons for being part of backlog of more than 12,000 applicants.

Constantine president Peter Mercer descends from a helicopter after a tour of drilling sites in August. Mercer said drilling work will be similar in the next two or three years, as the company starts to transition to more economic, environmental,. and engineering analysis that will result in a full plan for how to access the ore, which the company is shooting to release in 2026. (Lex Treinen / Chilkat Valley News)
Constantine Mining president lays out timeline for Palmer Project work

Project north of Haines at least five years from decisions about mine development, executive says

Most Read