Gov. Dunleavy reflects on lessons learned in first year, cites need for better communication during budget process

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FAIRBANKS, Alaska. (KTVF) Governor Mike Dunleavy has now been governor for one year and is looking towards the next year and upcoming budget process. We spoke to the governor about his first year and what he hopes to do in the coming year.

Governor Dunleavy reflects on his first year in office.

When asked what he learned in his first year as governor, Dunleavy referenced learning more about the state and the people of Alaska. “I learned that everyone has an opinion on the budget, which they should, it’s a diverse state. What I have learned is that I need to do a better job at communicating with all of the people of Alaska and that is what we’re working on,” said Dunleavy.

He went on to say that in order to better include the public in the budget discussion, they plan to visit every community at least once. “To talk to everybody from school districts to nonprofits, city councils, boroughs, individuals, and then have a town hall meeting sometime in the evening so that those that are working and can’t be there during the day, can attend. Then have the conversation with them about what do you want to see Alaska look like? What services are you willing to keep? What services are you willing to pay for? How do you want to pay for these going into the future? Really get a good feel from all [of] Alaska, across the spectrum, what they’re looking at in terms of the budget,” said Dunleavy.

On December 11, Dunleavy’s office will release the upcoming budget. Dunleavy said he could not release any information on the budget yet because the details are still being finalized. However, he says, “it will be a budget that will garner discussion; it will be a budget that folks can weigh in on and give their opinion.”

In the next year, Dunleavy says one of his goals is to come up with a balanced budget. “We’d like to have some constitutional amendments passed that will hem the budget in, we absolutely want to get the $1,400 that was not paid out in the PFD, paid out to the people of Alaska. If there is going to be any changes to the PFD, we want that to be done by law, not arbitrarily and we need to have the people of Alaska part of that process,” said Dunleavy.

He said they also want to continue working on public safety outcomes. “We are going to roll out an educational package that includes reading for some of our low performing schools, resources for that program as well. Algebra, by the time a child leaves eighth grade, being proficient in algebra is going to be very important. The concepts of tribal compacting, we are having discussions with folks so that tribes can be part of the educational process. We’re going to continue to attract investment to the State of Alaska, we feel that the past year the economic indicators are all pointing in the right direction, that Alaska is out of recession, that we want to make sure that we stay out of recession, that we continue to grow jobs and provide opportunity for Alaskans.”

When it comes to public safety, Dunleavy says this year they want to look at substance abuse programs, recidivism, and reentry programs.

Throughout the budget process, there has been a lot of attention on the Alaska Marine Highway System and how communities who rely on the ferries would be impacted by reductions in service. Dunleavy says they are hiring a consultant, working with a group on ideas for the ferry system moving forward. The group will look at schedules, number of runs, and examining the condition of the boats.

“That discussion is going to continue this year. We’re going to involve more Alaskans, especially with ferry impact folks along the coast obviously, and hopefully we will get a path forward to make this a stronger ferry system and one that’s sustainable,” said Dunleavy.

Dunleavy said he is meeting with President Jim Johnsen of the University of Alaska System soon to talk about how the budget plan they agreed on is progressing. “Both the university and my administration are on the same page when it comes to what the budget will look like this year. I see the university working through some of the reductions that we talked about last year, but I think it is all going to work out. I think we’re going to have a pretty good year this year,” said Dunleavy.

When asked what he is most proud of in his first year as governor, “Having the conversation with Alaskans on the budget, working through our public safety issues, and we’ll continue that. This is all a continuous process and I would [also] say the economy turning around. I won’t take full credit for the economy turning around, that would be disingenuous. But I do believe that our attitude and approach is to bringing in new investment and signaling to the world that Alaska is open for business, I think is very important,” said Dunleavy.

For the upcoming year, Dunleavy says he wants to make an extra effort to communicate fully with the public and involve them in the budget process.

“We heard you last year that we need to do a better job at communicating, we heard you last year that you want to be a part of the budgetary process and as a result, we’re going to be going out to the communities and getting your input. We want to build Alaska together. Some of us, I will be first to admit, often times approach a budget as a numbers issue, when really in fact it is a people issue. We are going to continue to keep looking toward the people for their input, their guidance, on this budget as we roll it out,” said Dunleavy.

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