“We cannot continue with business as usual” former Gov. Bill Walker said four years ago this month. With Alaska crude selling for under $40 per barrel, he rolled out his “New Sustainable Alaska Plan.” It included spending reductions and a variety of new taxes. But the real “paradigm shift” Walker asked us to consider was accepting a lower Permanent Fund Dividend so a portion of the Fund’s earnings could be used to help finance state government.
Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, who was Senate President at the time, called it “a good first start.”
To many Alaskans, that was indeed the beginning of serious discussions about the state’s fiscal reality. But during the past 12 months, Governor Mike Dunleavy has been parading around as if none of it ever happened. In fact, in a prepared speech he delivered to the Heritage Foundation earlier this week, Dunleavy accused Walker and the legislature of choosing to increase spending during that time.
The truth is Walker entered office with a much greater budget problem than Dunleavy faced last year. The deficit was $6.9 billion. The first budget he presented to the legislature included spending reductions of $550 million and the elimination 329 state government positions.
The new governor also directed his commissioners to consider the impacts of cutting their department budgets by 25 % over the next four years. Then they all went to work to develop a long-term plan. As I’ve already stated, that included further reductions to state spending.
Dunleavy witnessed all this from his seat on the senate finance committee. He was entitled to argue it was premature to impose new taxes without making deeper cuts. And that the Permanent Fund Dividend should be off limits.
But it’s dishonest to rewrite the history.
And it took no courage to portray himself as a hero before an audience from the same ideological bubble he occupies. Which is what he did with a few other proud but inaccurate stories he told.
Dunleavy bragged about vetoing $650 million from the budget when, in fact, the legislature had already cut $240 million. And they forced him to restore $155 million of the $409 million that he did veto.
He misrepresented the state’s underemployment rate as the lowest ever while failing to acknowledge that Alaska’s labor force is continuing to shrink.
And he took all the credit to pushing the Trump administration to lift Roadless Rule on the Tongass National Forest. He never mentioned that our congressional delegation has been challenging the rule for years. Or that Walker had already petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to exempt all of Alaska from it.
Contrast that performance with last week’s press conference about his budget blueprint for FY2021. After a somewhat repetitive seven-minute speech, Dunleavy took only three questions from reporters. He punted the rest to his commissioners and walked out of the room.
And that’s not the only responsibility he ran from.
Dunleavy still believes Alaskans should get the full PDF. And to give it to us, he wants to withdraw $1.5 billion from the Constitutional Budget Reserve. Last year he referred to dipping into that account as “kicking the can down the road.”
That’s partly why the Anchorage Daily News editorial board declared Dunleavy had handed the “mantle of budget leadership” to the legislature. Now it’s up to them to develop “longer-range plans for restoring Alaska’s fiscal stability.”
“Spending more than $2 billion per year out of Alaska’s fast-dwindling savings on the PFD is an unsustainable path” they wrote. The legislature must make “the hard decision to alter the PFD formula to allow for a smaller, more sustainable payment to Alaskans while also providing for core state services.”
In other words, we’re back to debating the heart of Walker’s 2015 fiscal plan.
We’ve wasted four years and spent billions of dollars from our savings because of stubborn ideologues like Dunleavy. And although he was the most extreme, senate Republicans who refused to take up Walker’s proposals are also to blame.
As are state party officials who gave Dunleavy the platform to pursue his fiscal fantasy.
What about the voters he fooled? Hopefully they’ll get to exercise their feet and make Dunleavy the first governor who Alaskans kicked out of office.
• Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and retired civil engineer with more than 25 years of experience working in the public sector.