Alaska faces a bleak future if Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s vetoes become law.
The Legislature must flex its authority as a coequal branch of government and save the state by overriding the vetoes and standing by the reasonable budget it approved and sent to the governor.
The governor has gone too far, too fast in striking more than $400 million from the budget. His reductions feel as though they were made without regard to the human and economic consequences.
Surely legislators must see this.
A special session of the Legislature starts today. The Alaska Constitution gives lawmakers five days from the start of the next session, regular or special, in which to override a veto.
What type of Alaska will we all be living in next week after those five precious days have expired?
Will it be grim, with thousands of people fleeing the state looking for work elsewhere? Will it be an Alaska in which those who stay see housing prices collapse, vital government services wither, and education and employment opportunities for the younger generation dry up?
Or will we next week be living in the Alaska that we have come to know, one in which we work together to solve our undoubtedly and reasonably solvable financial problem, one made more dire only by the governor’s insistence on an oversized Alaska Permanent Fund dividend and his fierce refusal to consider any substantial form of new revenue.
For Fairbanks in particular, the governor’s veto of 41% of the state’s funding to the University of Alaska — $130 million — would prove devastating. An estimated 1,300 UA employees would be out of work in the system.
Imagine Fairbanks without a university campus. That’s one of the options UA President Jim Johnsen has mentioned among several if the university is forced to declare a financial emergency after this week.
Many small businesses on the west side of town would likely close.
How important is the university to Alaska as a whole? Former territorial Gov. Ernest Gruening, who later became a U.S. senator after statehood, spoke of it during his speech opening the Alaska Constitutional Convention in Fairbanks on Nov. 8, 1955:
“The university is really the keeper of the soul of our modern society; …”
Are we now going to be a soulless state?
The governor’s vetoes are too numerous to mention here, and that in itself is a sign the governor has done too much, too fast.
Early education programs. The Alaska Senior Benefits Payment Program. The Alaska State Council on the Arts. State funds that are matches to federal dollars for programs such as fish and game conservation. Funding for public broadcasting.
The Legislature passed a reasonable budget, one that continued with some modest reductions.
The Legislature and governor remain at odds about the size of this year’s Alaska Permanent Fund dividend. Discussion in the Legislature centers on a $1,600 dividend, one the state can reasonably afford.
The governor is insisting on a $3,000 dividend, an amount arrived at by using the calculation laid out in state law. But, as Alaskans have seen reductions of the dividend the past three years, Alaska just can’t afford it.
Gov. Dunleavy views the dividend as something separate from the rest of the state’s finances, something that should continue without regard to other factors.
Alaska cannot afford the governor’s dividend philosophy.
But Alaska also cannot afford to do nothing.
Gov. Dunleavy’s approach to Alaska’s fiscal problem has jolted residents and legislators to the reality of the deficit, yet his solution is too austere. The risk of severe economic disruption and a lengthy recovery — if we do recover at all — is too great.
What Alaska needs is a reasonable and responsible reaction. It doesn’t need what the governor has prescribed.
For many legislators an override vote will be easy to cast. For others it will be a difficult vote because of political loyalty or pledges.
It is to those legislators we say this: Find the courage to save Alaska. Alaskans will support you. Keep Alaska moving forward; don’t send us backward.
Override the vetoes. There are better ways to deal with our budget deficits.