Remember when candidate Mike Dunleavy ran for governor, he promised he’d close the fiscal gap solely by achieving efficiencies … no pain to communities and Alaskans? He promised not to cut the ferry system, public schools, the court system, Alaska State Troopers, the University of Alaska. The list goes on.
As a former Assembly member in Ketchikan in the mid-1980s when the price of oil plummeted to $9 a barrel and as a former Juneau Assembly member wrestling with sudden shortfalls, I know on a visceral level: there is no such thing as painless budget cuts.
Fortunately, Republicans and Democrats alike in the Alaska Legislature knew that too. Public education, Medicaid and law enforcement, among other programs, were already stressed by five years of continual educations. So the Alaska Legislature, instead of going along with Dunleavy’s draconian proposal to cut $1.6 billion, put together a budget that cut $200 million; keeping essential Alaskan programs on life support.
Since the introduction of his FY 2019 budget, Dunleavy has gotten pummeled for his harsh budgets, prepared by a hack-for-hire budget hawk without any connection to Alaska except the governor. Now he claims he was elected to be the tough guy, reneging on his campaign promise of painless budget cuts, and his many promises to protect the programs that are essential to Alaskans.
The governor never provided any impact analysis for his latest $444 million budget vetoes, but economists with the University of Alaska did. The highly respected Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) and the Center for Economic Development collaborated on an analysis of the Economic Impacts of the Vetoes on the Alaska Economy (July 6, 2019)
These independent economists conclude that Dunleavy’s vetoes will result in a loss of about 4,200 jobs in the short term and lead to an additional loss of 2,500 jobs in the future. That’s almost 7,000 jobs. They explain: “this kind of loss makes it clear that the economy will dip back into a recession as a result of this shock”. The outmigration of workers will further shrink the state’s already small labor market and quote “worsening conditions for business.”
Dunleavy’s PFD-driven vetoes tell us he’s now walking back his “open for business” campaign pledge too. The ISER/Center for Economic Development report shows his budget vetoes will close us down to entrepreneurs and future business interest, jeopardizing our economic recovery.
As a local Assembly person, I sought staff advice and did my homework before making significant policy decisions. Shouldn’t a governor do the same? Perhaps the governor fails to recognize that a functioning economy operates in partnership with government; not against it. Does his PFD-limited vision keep him from seeing how the larger economy works?
Alaska legislators, both Republicans and Democrats, stood together to shoot down the first fallacy of painless budget cuts. Now they must stand together one more time to rise above the fallacy that even with $444 million more in cuts, Alaska would somehow remain open for business.
For the sake of our recovering economy: We call on Alaska Legislators to rise up and override these damaging vetoes. Our economy needs looking after, not a sledgehammer taken to it. Our economy is not strong enough to absorb the shock of losing thousands more jobs. Keep Alaska open for business. Override Dunleavy’s budget vetoes now!
Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, said “The fundamental question is now squarely before Alaskans. What’s more important: a healthy economy, our schools, university, and seniors, or doubling the Permanent Fund Dividend at the expense of essential state services?” He added, “The governor has made his choice clear.”
It’s time to let every legislator know that our choice is clear: as Alaskans who care about one another and the future of our children, we choose a healthy economy; we choose schools, the university and seniors. We choose Alaska.
Thousands of Alaskans have spoken out that a $3,000 PFD isn’t worth the risk. We’d rather tax ourselves than drive our economy, our education system, our ferries, our safety nets into oblivion. A PFD cannot buy an uncrowded classroom, a much needed trooper or winter ferry service.
• Kate Troll is a former Juneau Assembly member. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.