News-Miner opinion: OK, Alaskans. Now it’s up to you.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Friday unleashed his veto pen and struck millions of dollars from the state budget, affecting numerous functions of state government and throwing the lives of thousands of state and local government employees into turmoil.
The impact will ripple into the private sector. Businesses will feel the effect as laid off state employees cut back their spending or move out of state. Businesses will feel it, too, as state government and state-funded entities such as the University of Alaska have less money to spend on services provided by the private sector.
It’s breathtaking. Here is a taste:
The governor’s vetoes struck extremely hard at the University of Alaska, which will see a 41% reduction to state funding over what it received for the current fiscal year, which ends today. That’s a $130 million reduction by the governor on top of the $5 million reduction from the Legislature. It’s will be catastrophic if the Legislature allows the cut to stand.
State funding of public broadcasting funding: Gone.
Alaska State Council on the Arts funding: Gone.
State matching funds to obtain federal Pittman-Robertson funds, which are federal taxes paid on the sale of firearms and ammunition and awarded to state Fish and Game departments for wildlife and conservation and shooting programs: Gone.
Funds to restore the executive director for the Citizens’ Advisory Commission on Federal Areas, a panel whose aim is to guard against federal encroachment into Alaska’s land rights as a state: Gone. The duties will be transferred to an aide in the governor’s office.
Mental health services. The Public Defender Agency. The Senior Benefits Program. The list of reductions goes on.
Certainly a person’s view of those and others of the governor’s reductions is colored by a person’s belief system. Individual Alaskans will judge them accordingly.
But are all of the governor’s reductions unjustified? That’s unlikely. For example, the governor eliminated funds for a youth detention facility in Nome that his administration determined has been underused. Juvenile offenders from that region will, failing a veto override, be sent to detention centers in Fairbanks, Anchorage or Bethel.
Certainly other beneficial reductions are likely to be found in combing through the list.
There is at least one reduction that is a direct scolding and a cause for concern, however. Whatever your opinion on the subject of abortion, it is not proper for the governor to reduce the budget of the Alaska Court System — the co-equal third branch of our government — because he disagrees with the Alaska Supreme Court’s ruling in February upholding a lower court decision invalidating a 2013 regulation and 2014 law that placed restrictions on Medicaid funding for abortions.
That is not how our system should work. Yet that is what the governor did in reducing the court system budget by $334,700, an amount his veto document describes as the amount spent on abortion services through Medicaid in fiscal 2018. The veto notation reads: “The Legislative and Executive Branch are opposed to State funded elective abortions; the only branch of government that insists on State funded elective abortions is the Supreme Court. The annual cost of elective abortions is reflected by this reduction.”
The governor made 182 vetoes in all, from staggering to small, like the dozens of department travel reductions.
The matter is now back with the Legislature and with the rest of the Alaska population. What sort of Alaska do Alaskans want? It’s clear that Alaska can’t continue to provide services without additional revenue.
This is a pivotal moment.