This past winter, Gov. Mike Dunleavy introduced his first budget, a dismal specter of austerity that would dismantle much of Alaska’s soul in the name of a $3,000 Alaska Permanent Fund dividend. The Legislature then spent several months crafting an imperfect yet well-intentioned budget full of compromises that would have left our state on reasonably firm fiscal footing.
Now, in what appears to be “my way or the highway,” Dunleavy has used his veto pen to throw out the sanity and measure of the Legislature in favor of a reckless series of line-item vetoes. All the vetoes are ill-advised. Some are petty and vindictive, like the $300,000 cut from the Alaska Court System for no basis beyond Dunleavy’s disagreement with a Supreme Court decision.
Some are monstrous and cruel, like the $50 million cut from Medicaid, which will have the effect of worsening Alaskans’ access to health care and send a boatload of money back to Uncle Sam; or the $21.5 million cut to senior benefits, which would force massive reductions in services or massive increases in cost to our oldest residents, our pioneers.
Some are cruel in their utter financial insignificance, such as the $692,000 cut from the Alaska State Council on the Arts, which last year raised more than $2 million in funding from foundation and endowment grants.
Finally, one veto above all others is disastrous beyond belief: the utter gutting of the University of Alaska. Alaska is already shamefully alone as the only state without a law school and one of four without a medical school. Now we would possibly shutter one of the two flagship campuses, be the only state without a college athletics program, see our expensive buildings sit idle and empty and force Alaska children to leave the state in search of higher education. The brain drain we suffer is already real; this would make it magnificently larger.
Dunleavy claims to be pro-development, but without Alaska engineers, who will build his developments? He claims to be pro-life, but with a thoughtless stroke of his pen he would condemn tens of thousands of Alaskans to a life without medical care and nursing services. He claims to support rural residents, but a few short weeks after U.S. Attorney General William Barr described our village policing as an “emergency” he plans to cripple the already struggling VPSO program. He claims opposition to new taxes but would shift a significant new tax burden to municipalities like Fairbanks by slashing the school bond debt reimbursements
This veto simply cannot and must not be allowed to stand unchallenged. A few weeks ago, the Legislature, led in part by our Interior delegation, stabilized our fiscal situation and passed a successful bipartisan budget built on compromise, and now, with a few casual pen strokes, Dunleavy has thrown that act of compromise out the window in favor of turning our state into a hollow ruin. That cannot be allowed to happen without a fight. I encourage everyone reading this to write to their legislators and insist on a return to sanity in the form of a full veto override. It’s an uphill battle, needing 45 of the 60 in the Legislature, but Alaskans are nothing if not resilient.
Henry Cole is a 30-year Fairbanks resident.