Budget veto announcement

Donna Arduin, director of the Office of Management and Budget, at podium, comments on the governor's state budget vetoes at the state capitol in Juneau, Alaska Friday, June 28, 2019. At right, with Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy.  

Donna Arduin has been removed from her position as state budget director for Gov. Mike Dunleavy effective Monday.

According to the governor's office, Arduin is set to serve as a contracted adviser to the state's commissioners and to the Office of Management and Budget "if she so chooses."

"If she decides to continue in the role, it’ll be a reduced position from where she is now,” Dunleavy Chief of Staff Ben Stevens told reporters Monday.

An acting director has not been named yet. Dunleavy officials say the governor will announce the position "shortly" but did not provide a more detailed time frame. Until then, Deputy Director Laura Cramer will serve as interim budget director.

Stevens noted the governor has "a few people in mind" for the position but wouldn't provide any details, noting the governor is still deliberating.

Arduin will be making less money as a contracted adviser than she did as budget director, according to Stevens, but he noted contract negotiations are still in the works and that he did not have an answer on how much Arduin may be paid in her new role. The well-known budget hawk was provided a salary of $195,000 as director, one of the highest salaries within the Dunleavy administration.

Stevens noted that Arduin would, in her new role if accepted, look into "prioritizing programs" and methods to do so. He added that Arduin's tools were vital during the first year of Dunleavy's term as governor but that commissioners will have more involvement in their own budgets now, referring to the change as a "natural evolution."

Arduin was not given a severance package, according to Stevens, who noted that was "not within the state's guidelines." He later added that Arduin was given two weeks notice.

Stevens said the decision to remove Arduin was “made unanimously within the leadership of the governor’s office," later emphasizing that the governor has the right to hire and fire who he chooses within his administration.

"The govenor’s vision hasn’t changed. The governor has the prerogative to utilize any caliber or any individuals he thinks will help him achieve his agenda," Stevens said. "He’s made the decision to take this path and move forward and keep her on as an adviser."

After drastically cutting budgets in six other states, including California, Florida and Michigan, Arduin was hired in December to lead Dunleavy's overhaul of the state's budget, eventually resulting in more than $400 million in operating budget vetoes earlier this summer.

Arduin, whose position was not subject to legislative confirmation, had a strained relationship with the Legislature throughout this year's session. As the budgetary contact for the House and Senate, Arduin appeared in budget hearings to explain elements of the legislation, often sparking frustration with legislators who felt they lacked adequate information.

Her departure comes just weeks after former Dunleavy's Chief of Staff Tuckerman Babcock resigned from the administration. Babcock was moved into a senior advising role weeks before he left the administration entirely.

Stevens maintained the changes aren't a result of the fast-growing effort to recall Dunleavy as governor. The group seeking to remove Dunleavy recently submitted 49,006 signatures to the Division of Elections along with a 200-word brief outlining the reasons for recall.

"That didn’t have anything to do with it. It’s the governor's prerogative to make these changes," Stevens said. "It has to do with developing the budget and achieving his agenda. I wouldn’t say this is unusual at all."

According to the Dunleavy administration, Arduin was on personal leave at the time of the announcement.

Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.