Borough Assembly Votes to Oppose Budget Vetoes

Members of the Borough Assembly (from left) Liz Lyke, Andrew Gray, Shaun Tacke, Matt Cooper, and Christopher Quist discuss the State budget while holding a special meeting to vote on resolution opposing Gov. Dunleavy's vetoes Monday evening, July 8, 2019. Not pictured are Assembly members Leah Williams and Marna Sanford. The resolution passed unanimously.

The Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly voted unanimously to approve a resolution in support of overriding vetoes proposed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy at the end of June.

Dunleavy proposed 182 line-item vetos on June 28, a cut of over $400 million to the state operating budget. Resolution 2019-27 states “many of the vetoes directly and adversely affect the Fairbanks North Star Borough and other municipalities” and requests a legislative override.

Assemblyman and Presiding Officer Matt Cooper, who initially proposed the resolution, likened the cuts to ripping off a bandage all at once rather than making a plan for a sustainable budget, a metaphor Assemblywoman Leah Berman Williams expanded upon in her comments.

“This is cutting the body in half and leaving it to bleed on the street,” she said. “I hope that the Legislature can come together and make decisions for the good of the people of Alaska — all people of the state of Alaska — and not be mired in the politics of the day.”

Cooper agreed with Williams’ statement and said, regardless of political affiliation, there will be people impacted should the vetoes not be overridden.

“These cuts are going to do equal devastation to everybody,” he said.

The resolution specifically addresses vetoes to the community assistance fund, school bond debt reimbursement, the University of Alaska and other educational sectors, Medicaid services, the senior citizen benefits program and public and homeless assistance.

The few who turned out to give comment on the resolution were divided.

The conversation around an override has, according to former Assemblyman Mike Prax, grown excessive.

“I understand your concern,” he said. “I understand that it is going to impact the borough, impact the community, impact a lot of organizations that you have mentioned here, but this whole effort, you know, override effort, has really gotten out of hand and over the top.”

Over the past few years, according to Prax, various factions have been vying to keep funding rather than cut costs.

“Everybody’s just fighting to keep their small share of existing wealth and this isn’t going to work,” he said.

Lance Roberts, a former borough assemblyman, cited an ongoing budget deficit in his remarks.

“You’re looking 12 years, if nothing changes, before the state goes completely broke,” he said.

Roberts added that the budget has been unsustainable and cuts need to be made in order to get to a sustainable level.

Kathryn Dodge, who announced her run for city mayor in May, began by thanking the assembly.

“I believe that the vetoes if left to stand will decimate our state. It tears at the very foundation of who we are,” she said.

Dodge expressed concern that people will move, specifically in response to cuts to the university, where she said community members have jobs and students from in-state choose to go to college.

Dodge requested changes to the language of the resolution, regarding the section on cuts to Medicaid. Where the resolution previously read cuts would harm the borough by “reducing the need for services,” Dodge said the need would remain, but the ability to pay for services would be reduced.

Christine Robbins, of Fairbanks, asked the assembly to support Dunleavy’s vetoes. Robbins called for balancing the budget without pulling from the permanent fund dividend.

“We have to do it in such a way that doesn’t take away our rights, specifically the PFD,” Robbins said. “We should support a full PFD because that belongs to the people.”

Cooper said, while he agreed with Roberts and Robbins that the budget has been unsustainable and the governor is trying to address it, “frankly those proposed cuts and now vetoes are going to destroy the economy.” 

Cooper added he doesn’t think giving people a full PFD will make up for the economic impacts caused by the vetoes.

Assemblyman Christopher Quist said testimony on both sides showed a concern for the future of the state, albeit by addressing a “sustainable future” with different ideas.

He added he does not think this process has been a responsible way to govern, even if some agree with the end goal of making larger cuts. 

“There was zero compromise and that is not leadership and, anyways, I would just thank the sponsors again for bringing this resolution forward and the presiding officer for calling the meeting,” he said.

Assemblymembers Williams, Liz Lyke and Marna Sanford all requested to be added as cosponsors to the resolution.

Borough Mayor Bryce Ward said he agreed with Quist’s statements and that he found the “posturing” and other aspects of this legislative session to be frustrating.

Looking at the timeline of the session, Ward said, really exemplified how “the borough and many of the other organizations affected really had two days to prepare” for the vetoes.

Ward agreed to be added to the resolution as a cosponsor.

After making amendments, the assembly members voted, unanimously passing the resolution 7-0. Assemblymembers Aaron Lojewski and Geoffrey Wildridge were not present.

Legislators have scheduled an override vote for Wednesday.

City of Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly came out in support of a legislative override of the vetoes at Monday night’s City Council meeting. He cited specific concerns over how the vetoes would affect the university and other local programs. He said that despite public pressure to comment on the vetoes, he’d waited to speak until he’d done some research and after some consideration. He stated that he felt the bipartisan budget presented to the governor was fair and that he felt 182 vetoes was “too much at one time.”

At the suggestion of Councilmember Valerie Therrien, the council gave Matherly permission to write a letter to the legislature on behalf on the city in a last minute 4-2 vote. Councilmembers Jerry Cleworth and David Pruhs both voted against the decision. 

Cleworth felt the action was too hasty. He said he could not support the action as he had not personally read or considered all of the vetoes. Pruhs felt that the mayor did not need the council’s permission to write a letter, an idea which was contested by the city’s lawyer. 

The letter in support of the overrides will be drafted by the mayor’s office and sent today.

 

Shovel Creek Fire

A second meeting was held after the vote on Resolution 2019-27, with another resolution proposing the assembly ratify Ward’s declaration of disaster emergency in regards to the Shovel Creek Fire.

Ward clarified during the meeting that the borough is not currently requesting state funding in managing the fire.

“As part of the disaster declaration it does say that we are requesting additional funding from the state,” Ward said. “That is not the case at this time.”

He said the borough has communicated with the governor that while they are not presently asking for support, should the fire worsen or damage structures they will go through the appropriate avenues to request state funding.

The resolution was approved unanimously, in a 7-0 vote.

Contact staff writer Kyrie Long at 459-7510. Follow her on Twitter at: twitter.com/FDNMlocal