Les Gara (Courtesy Photo)

Les Gara (Courtesy Photo)

Opinion: Gov. Dunleavy’s budget and the damage it would cause

Cutting waste is one thing. Hacking at opportunity and the economy is another.

  • By LES GARA
  • Monday, March 18, 2019 6:51pm
  • Opinion

In my 12 years on the House Finance Committee, my job was to understand how a budget would affect people and the economy. What does it do to educational opportunity, or elders who’ve helped build this state? In contrast, the repeated line from many in Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration is that they haven’t considered the impacts of their budget.

Writing budget numbers, without analyzing the impacts on people, is typing, not governing. Here’s some of the damage that causes.

Pioneer Home residents have been rightly stressed by a roughly 50 percent proposed rate hike. That makes an entry-level room for someone a fixed income, who gets food, but not medical care, a staggering $43,000 a year. Our highest care residents would pay $180,000 a year.

[Opinion: I ran into Gov. Dunleavy on the street. Here’s what I wish I told him]

Seniors were never asked for their input. That puts them in the same boat as hard-hit schools, mayors, communities the budget saddles with higher local property taxes and those who rely on the Alaska Marine Highway System. None were offered any input.

Alaska’s new budget writer, Donna Arduin, a Michigan resident and partisan who knows less about Alaska than anyone who’s ever written an Alaska budget, claims it’s not her responsibility to know her budget’s impact on elders, students or the economy of a state where she doesn’t live.

[Budget bill language would give unprecedented power to governor’s office]

I believe people should care about what they do to others.

We do have information on this budget’s impacts. Studies from the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER), and questions in legislative committees, make clear this budget will encourage people to leave Alaska, or live with less opportunity to achieve, less dignity and fewer jobs if they stay.

Cutting $1.6 billion from a roughly $4 billion budget, that’s already been cut deeply the past five years, is a job killer, an opportunity killer and a dignity killer for Alaskans, from the youngest to our elders.

Students don’t achieve more when we fire our best teachers and overcrowd classrooms. In recent years, public schools have lost roughly 1,000 teachers, career and guidance counselors and other educators from Juneau to Nome. The governor’s budget would make things worse. It wipes away last year’s bipartisan education compromise, which aimed to stem the loss of teachers and classroom opportunities.

[Legislature working to avoid ‘devastating’ cuts, Juneau lawmakers say]

They’ve also proposed a $300 million slash to public school support that would have to be paid with the layoff of 3,000 more teachers and educators, lost courses or other cuts. That’s not what you tell parents whose job skills we need, whose children should be our future workforce, unless you want them to move.

Cutting waste is one thing. Hacking at opportunity and the economy is another.

The Legislature’s finance committees were right to bring in a discussion by ISER, the university’s economic think tank. State agency budgets have already been cut by $425 million since 2015, and by over $3 billion if you count combined cuts to the operating and capital construction budget since 2013 (more if you consider inflation). The governor now wants to cut the remaining roughly $4 billion in agency budgets by another 40 percent, or $1.6 billion.

That comes with consequences. According to ISER, every $100 million more in cuts kills between 900-1,500 private and public sector jobs. ISER Professor Mouhcine Guettabi testified to the Senate Finance Committee recently that, even with more money on the street from the PFD, by slashing funds for schools, seniors and basic services, we’ll lose roughly 8,000 needed private and public sector jobs, and extend Alaska’s recession.

That doesn’t count the jobs we don’t have anymore because of Alaska’s austerity capital construction budget. A past average of $500 million in state funds used to cover road and building maintenance, energy cost reduction projects, rural sanitation (yes, the honey bucket still exists in Alaska) and, I’d say some pork, has been reduced to about $100 million. An austerity construction budget means less construction and thousands fewer good jobs.

I do thank the governor for holding back the budget cutting axe from some areas Alaskans agree on. I also have faith the Legislature will now take the budget, listen to the Alaskans and pass one that reflects our values of fairness, dignity and opportunity.


• Les Gara was vice chair of the House Finance Committee in 2017-2018, and was a member of the Alaska Legislature from 2003-2018. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.


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