Interior Alaska Legislators comment on governor’s proposed budget

By  | 

FAIRBANKS, Alaska. (KTVF) Governor Michael Dunleavy announced his proposed budget on Wednesday, and legislators are looking it over to prepare for the upcoming legislative session.

We spoke to legislators representing the Interior of Alaska about their initial thoughts on the budget. (Photo Credit/KTUU)

We spoke to legislators representing the Interior of Alaska about their initial thoughts on the budget. Many of the legislators stated that they were pleasantly surprised with the lack of large cuts in the proposal, but they still have concerns about the long-term sustainability of this budget.

Senator Scott Kawasaki: “I’m sort of optimistic that we’ve got a budget that doesn’t have exceptional cuts to seniors [or] K-12. There’s still a huge university cut and those we will be able to look at in time. I think really what I was hoping for, I didn’t get -- the governor issued a budget that was sort of tall on expectations because he’s been there for two years, but it’s really short on the substance and the details at this point.”

Senator Click Bishop: “I appreciate the governor coming out with this budget. It’s a good starting point. You don’t need smelling salts to pull yourself up off the floor compared to the budget he came out with last year, and it lends a more tempered conversation starter between the administration and the legislature.”

Senator John Coghill: “Probably two things: Number one, a recognition that cutting is a little harder than he had originally thought -- so status quo budget I think is a starting place and he’ll obviously have to come in with some other recommendations. But what you don’t see is there’s a supplemental that is going to come in that makes that budget larger than status quo. Those are supplementals to pay for last year’s costs that were over what they expected, and so we are going to have that discussion on a flat funded budget. The other thing is the dividend -- he proposed not only paying back but also paying the statutory formula, which numerically is just not sustainable. He said that he is going to follow the statute and that is great, it is just that he does not follow the statue on other funding. Those kind of tensions have risen out of this discussion. To be fair, the legislature is going to have to answer the question on how do we use some earnings from the Permanent Fund and still pay a reasonable dividend. I think his proposal is just not able to be sustained within reason.”

Representative Grier Hopkins: “I was happy to see that he listened to Alaskans at least initially and didn’t cut the programs that he had proposed before, and heard from so many of my constituents that raised their voice. But I do have some very strong concerns about the long term sustainability about this budget. Tapping the very last of our savings account to pay the permanent fund dividend check is very concerning to me. He also proposed the $1,400 supplemental permanent fund dividend check that taps into the permanent fund reserves and that is also concerning to me. Robbing Peter today to pay Paul and losing that long-term sustainability is something that is concerning to me because we do need to protect our ability to continue to maintain the services for our children and future generations.”

Representative Adam Wool: “My first thoughts are not so bad, no big cuts, because last year there was some talk about another $800 million in cuts, and we were like ‘where is that going to come from?' So there was no cuts, and I think that was pretty remarkable.”

Representative Bart LeBon: “I think we can work with this budget. There is an effort I think on the part of the governor to reach out to Alaskans, open the dialogue, and not be so draconian in the cuts like we were looking at last year. So a relatively flat funding proposal, with one exception -- and that would be the CBR draw is pretty robust, and to draw a billion dollars down from the CBR would impair that fund. That is the state’s working capital, and drawing it down to half a billion from its current, I think it’s about 1.6 billion, is a problem in my mind.”

LeBon commented that he is looking forward to having a discussion this year that can start and take place immediately once they get to Juneau. “Last year we spent a month trying to organize, [and] we weren’t able to begin to deal with the business of the state. This year, it is different. We know our committee assignments, we know what the numbers are, the governor’s budget is in our lap so we can start the discussion right away, and I’m very happy about that,” said LeBon.

Legislators will continue to examine the budget and talk with constituents, preparing for the upcoming legislative session.

We were not able to reach Rep. Wilson, Rep. Talerico, or Rep. Thompson for comment.

Copyright 2019 KTVF. All rights reserved.