Senate Democratic Leader Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, right, listens to Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, during a Senate Democrat Caucus press conference at the Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Senate Democratic Leader Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, right, listens to Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, during a Senate Democrat Caucus press conference at the Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Tall promises, short details: Senate Democrats concerned about budget

Lawmakers caution constituents of inevitable budget cuts

Alaska Senate Democrats expressed their concern about the impending operating budget cuts proposed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy during a Thursday press conference.

Dunleavy has proposed $1.6 billion in cuts to the state operating budget. With only $3.2 billion in revenue to work with, and a government that operates on $4.8 billion in the current year, his proposed cuts match the deficit he is working with. He has not proposed any new means of revenue.

Sen. Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, said he is encouraged by Dunleavy’s promises during the State of the State, such as protecting the Permanent Fund Dividend and implementing a permanent fiscal solution, but he is awaiting more details on the budget.

“I look forward to seeing his budget proposals. We heard a lot of tall promises from the governor. In the end, we were short on details,” Begich said. “In our committee hearings we’ve looked at some of the commissioners and asked them questions, we’re not getting details.”

He also noted that when Dunleavy unveiled the first part of his public safety package on Wednesday, it left out the details of how these changes would be funded. The four crime bills introduced by Dunleavy did include some fiscal notes, though.

The governor’s budget is due to the Legislature by Feb. 13. On Wednesday, Dunleavy produced some budget numbers during the Senate Finance Committee meeting. But Sen. Donny Olson, D-Golovin, said it did not do enough to quell his fears about impending budget cuts. A member of the Senate Finance Committee, Olson said it’s usually rural residents such as his constituents who are impacted by budget cuts.

“Let’s be honest: 80 to 85 percent of the state’s revenues come from the district that I represent,” Olson said. “I watch that fair amount of visibility that is careful to make sure we are not getting the short end of the stick.”

“I’m very concerned about the details that are going to come out,” he added.

Olson said he’s already spoken to his constituents, through a local radio station, in an effort to caution them about the inevitable budget cuts.

Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, is concerned as well.

“We’re all looking forward to seeing the governor’s budget, but I think it’s going to be shock to Alaskans when they actually do see it.”

Art Chance comments

Sen. Tom Begich does not believe Art Chance, who was tagged for a policy formulation position within the Department of Administration, is qualified for the job.

Chance, who is a former director of the Alaska Department of Labor Relations, has come under scrutiny by some Alaskans for some of his Facebook posts. The posts in question contain crude, insulting, sometimes aggressive insults toward women, minorities, and people or people he disagrees with.

Begich, D-Anchorage, said certain government positions of respect and public service demand the “highest quality of people” to do the job.

“Mr. Chance’s comments about race, his comments about his misogyny these are really unacceptable of a state employee at any level but especially at the highest levels,” Begich said during an afternoon press conference. “He is a policy person selected to serve in our administration and I personally believe he is not qualified to do that based on those comments. They disqualify him.”


• Contact reporter Kevin Baird at 523-2258 or kbaird@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @alaska_kev.


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