Gov. Mike Dunleavy held a press conference at the Alaska State Capitol on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy held a press conference at the Alaska State Capitol on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Opinion: Governor’s budget plan doesn’t add up

Keeping secrets from the public is irresponsible, dishonest and harmful.

  • Sunday, June 20, 2021 7:30am
  • Opinion

By Larry Persily

Gov. Mike Dunleavy must have learned how to manage state finances from the same people who guard the world’s biggest secret recipes, including Colonel Sanders’ fried chicken, Coca-Cola and the Big Mac’s special sauce.

Keeping secrets from customers is smart, effective no-harm marketing hype. Keeping secrets from the public is irresponsible, dishonest and harmful.

Dunleavy, who served on the Matanuska-Susitna Borough school board and later spent five years in the state Legislature, should know his arithmetic — if he had paid attention instead of planning his 2018 election campaign for governor. Budget math is pretty simple, it’s just adding and subtracting. How much revenue comes in and how much spending goes out.

No secret there.

But the governor would rather ignore the math and preach his political plan that is short on many of the basic ingredients. His recipe to bake a budget cake to serve 730,000 people includes:

■ Pay out a few billion dollars in unaffordable Permanent Fund dividends for another couple of years.

■ Put the dividend in the state constitution, ahead of public education.

■ Take a few billion dollars extra out of the Permanent Fund to pay the bills and get past the next election without divulging the long-term recipe.

■ Hope the stock market never goes down and the Permanent Fund never loses money.

■ Pretend the state can cut spending on public services by several hundred million dollars a year and the ferries will run on time, no communities will lose any services, and someone will always answer the phone when you call a state agency for help. The full details of his proposed budget cuts are secret.

■ And no matter what, never ever say the word “taxes.” The governor says he has a plan to boost state revenues but he isn’t ready to tell us the recipe. Maybe later this summer.

The only hint the governor has dropped about new revenues to cover the bills and bigger dividends is state-sanctioned gambling. Meanwhile, he’s gambling that voters will be gullible enough to accept his math if he runs for reelection next year.

Sitka Sen. Bert Stedman listened to a presentation earlier this month in the Senate Finance Committee, which he co-chairs, with the administration pitching its tax-free plan of unknown budget cuts and fat dividends. The senator was blunt: “I don’t believe it.”

Fairbanks Rep. Adam Wool was equally skeptical of the governor’s secret recipe for bigger dividends and no taxes. It “crashes the system,” Wool told a House committee this month.

If legislators can do the math, why can’t the governor? Or is it that he can do the math but would rather feed Alaskans a secret budget recipe for his special dividend reelection sauce.

• Larry Persily is a longtime Alaska journalist, with breaks for federal, state and municipal service in oil and gas, taxes and policy work. He is currently owner and editor of the weekly Wrangell Sentinel newspaper.

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