Gov. Mike Dunleavy

 

Updated 6:33 p.m.: Gov. Mike Dunleavy on Tuesday announced a collection of $261 million in operating and capital budget vetoes, including cuts to K-12 education and the Alaska Marine Highway.

The governor defended his vetoes by pointing to the federal CARES Act recently signed into law by President Donald Trump as a way to make up some of the cut funding.

Dunleavy vetoed more than $100 million in funding for schools by cutting $30 million from K-12 funding passed by the Legislature last month and deleting all state funding lawmakers included for the state's school bond debt reimbursement to local governments.

He told reporters Tuesday the reduced education funding will be made up through federal funding for education included in the CARES act, adding that "many" but not all of his vetoes will be covered by that funding.

“There’s a couple smaller reductions we will not use COVID money for,” he said without clarifying which cuts will not be made up.

One particular veto that likely won't be made up by emergency COVID-19 federal funding is a $334,700 cut to the state's appellate court system.

Last year, Dunleavy vetoed that exact amount from the courts over an abortion ruling he disagreed with. The veto was included in legal grounds outlined by the group seeking to recall the governor from office. The group claims the veto was punitive and violates the separation of powers contained in the Alaska Constitution.

A Superior Court judge approved the recall grounds earlier this year.

In February, Dunleavy made a point to amend his December budget proposal to restore the $334,700 to the appellate courts –– claiming, however, that the restoration had nothing to do with the legal gains made in the recall case just days before.

Now the dollar amount has returned with a $334,700 veto to the court system included in the list of 108 line item budget vetoes presented Tuesday.

Dunleavy also cut the additional $12.5 million the Legislature had given back to the University of Alaska, bringing the total amount cut from the university to $25 million, keeping in line with the defunding compact signed by UA President Jim Johnsen and the governor last summer.

Some of the governor's other cuts include the following:

• $4.3 million in pre-kindergarten grants

• $15.5 million for the Alaska Marine Highway plus $16.2 million for crew quarters

• $31 million in Medicaid funding

•All funding for the Ocean Ranger program

• $2 million for public broadcasting

• $1 million for spill prevention and response

• $2 million for behavioral health treatment and recovery grants

• $3 million for Alaska Housing Finance Corp. weatherization projects

• $5 million for Alaska Housing Finance Corp. Homeless COVID-19 Response

• $2 million for Alaska Housing Finance Corp. special needs housing

• $2.7 million for Alaska Housing Finance Corp. teacher health and public safety professional housing

• $500,000 for the Cold Climate Housing Research Center

• All funding for the Civil Air Patrol

• $1.2 million for Community Assistance Program funding

Dunleavy also blocked a planned $1.5 billion transfer to the permanent fund principal for inflation-proofing, saying it would be better to have that funding available in case more spending in response to COVID-19 is necessary.

He also told reporters Tuesday afternoon that he and his Cabinet had looked over the CARES Act and feel confident the funding allocated within it will cover the budget cuts he wishes to make up.

The National Conference of State Legislatures, a bipartisan non-government group aimed at serving members and staff of the nation's Legislatures, issued a summary of the act that appears to disagree.

The group's summary notes that the CARES Act funding is specifically designated for funds that are necessary expenditures incurred due to COVID-19, were not accounted for in the budget most recently approved as of the date of enactment of this section and were incurred during the period that begins March 1 and ends Dec. 30.

The CARES Act itself includes a maintenance of effort clause advising that state's who are receiving assistance "will maintain support for elementary and secondary education, and state support for higher education...in fiscal years 2020 and 2021 at least at the levels of such support that is the average of such state’s support for elementary and secondary education and for higher education provided in the three fiscal years preceding the date of enactment of this Act."

House Speaker Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, raised the same concerns in a statement criticizing the vetoes.

"There is no guarantee that the federal government will pick up the tab," he said. "This approach is incredibly troubling to me. Unfortunately, not only did the governor veto his own supplemental budget requests, he is also using the COVID-19 crisis as justification to veto items he never supported."

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

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