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On Monday, the University of Alaska Board of Regents voted 10-1 to declare “financial exigency” in the face of a $135 million cut to its state funding.
Later that morning, the Alaska House of Representatives failed by one vote to approve a capital budget and roll back the Dunleavy administration’s “reverse sweep.”
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking toward the deadline for potentially addressing the governor’s $440 million in vetoes to the state operating budget.
Each of these situations, which stem directly from actions by Dunleavy and his administration, has the potential to negatively affect many Alaskans immediately and the broader Alaska economy soon after.
How hard will these things hit? The Dunleavy administration doesn’t know, having made it abundantly clear it’s not interested in analyzing the potential result of any budget action outside of the action’s effect on the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend.
One major case in point is the Alaska Marine Highway System. As most of Ketchikan is aware, candidate Micheal Dunleavy said multiple times that he wasn’t considering huge cuts to the state ferry system. Then Gov. Dunleavy’s first proposed budget would have halted ferry operations after Sept. 30, in effect killing the system. Did Dunleavy have any sort of plan for managing a shut down or maintaining any sort of marine transportation? No. And he still doesn’t, negotiating with the Legislature for a bare minimum of funding to maintain skeleton service while his consultant tries to come up with some options. Meanwhile, the communities, businesses and individual Alaskans who’ve built, used and relied on AMHS service can — well, you fill in the blank if you have an answer because the Dunleavy administration sure doesn’t.
In budget item by budget item, Dunleavy’s unstated goal appears to be blow it up if he can, and leave cleaning up the mess to those affected.
That’s the situation that the University of Alaska finds itself in, never fully imagining that it could have to decide — in the course of a couple weeks — how to deal with cuts that have an estimated negative effect of $200 million.
After the regents voted Monday to declare the financial situation that will allow for fast cuts, the rest of the regents’ discussion focused on how to make such cuts. Again, there’s no plan, no strategy, no guidance, no vision from Dunleavy — who before the election gave no indication of his interest in whacking the UA system.
The situation still perplexes UA President Jim Johnsen, who wondered on Monday just "How can something so great, built by so many over so many years, be crippled by so few so quickly?"
How indeed. And why? That’s the question. There’s something at work here other than “live within our means” and “full PFD,” which are the only rationales that the Dunleavy administration has cared to mention. But the phrase “live within our means” might be taken more seriously if the governor had shown any interest in the revenue side of the equation. That leaves “full PFD,” which most of us would appreciate, but at what cost?
This governor has failed to answer that question, just as he has failed thus far to provide strategies to mitigate impacts from his budget decisions on the Alaska Marine Highway System, University of Alaska, Power Cost Equalization Fund, etc., etc. No plans, no leadership. Just cuts, and a state full of Alaskans trying to figure out how to respond and guess what’s next.