After two special sessions, months of partisan rancor and more than $400 million in line-item vetoes to the state’s $8 billion operating budget, Gov. Mike Dunleavy last week signed into law a capital budget.
Before signing the measure into law on Aug. 8 however, Dunleavy included $34,732,800 in line-item vetoes, affecting social service and public safety programs across the state, including on the peninsula.
The Kenai Library lost $15,000 in funds to help earthquake-proof shelving at the children’s reading room. Mary Jo Joiner, the library’s director, said the library has been working to address the shelving issues since 2011, when the library had a renovation. She said during the renovation, the architects made a mistake and ordered the wrong shelving. Today, a generous portion of the children’s books sit on book carts, she said.
“We’ve been wanting to replace the shelves,” Joiner said.
She said the city of Kenai made a request to the state to help cover the cost of replacing the shelves, which was vetoed Thursday.
“I’m not surprised it was was vetoed,” Joiner said. “Obviously, it’s not seen as important. It would be nice to replace those with tethered shelving.”
Having books on the book carts hasn’t caused any issues, yet, Joiner said.
“We’ve had some good shakers and nothing has really happened” Joiner said. “If the library was occupied during an earthquake, there’s a chance some books could tip over.”
The governor vetoed $42,800 in funding from the Sterling Area Senior Citizens, Inc. Safety and Security of Seniors Projects, which, according to the budget document, included a hallway carpet and kitchen upgrade. The nonprofit organization declined to comment.
Another veto cuts $70,000 for patrol vehicle cameras for the Soldotna Police Department. The Soldotna Police Department did not return phone calls requesting comment.
One of the governor’s vetoes partially reduces statewide funding — from $7.9 million to $4.3 million — for the Homelessness Assistance Program, or HAP Grant. The grant is distributed by the Alaska Housing and Finance Corporation to agencies that provide emergency shelter for people experiencing homelessness. The reduction is significantly less than what the governor vetoed in July, which would have brought the total funding for the program from about $7.9 million to about $950,000.
Three agencies on the peninsula have historically received this grant: Love, INC in Soldotna, the Leeshore Center in Kenai and Haven House in Homer.
Love, INC Executive Director Leslie Rohr said on Tuesday that the organization will be receiving about $260,000 this year through the HAP grant. Compared with the $324,000 that Love, INC received through the grant last year, this is a reduction of about 20%. Rohr said that the 20% reduction is similar to what the other grant recipients across the state will experience. Rohr said that until the organization is able to recoup the funding through alternate sources, Love, INC will be cutting back on their hours of operation and will be open four days a week instead of five.
“We’re going to have to be tighter this year than last year,” Rohr said. “We always run out of funds, so with a 20% reduction, if we want to maintain service for the whole year, we’ll have to be really cautious with how that money is spent.”
An Aug. 9 press release from the Office of the Governor stated that the governor restored a vast majority of the funding for homelessness and housing assistance programs compared to his original vetoes.
“These reductions and their impact to services and programs has led to tremendous feedback from Alaskans, legislators and others,” Dunleavy said while signing SB 2002 last week. “As a result, I have taken that feedback into account in the budget presented today.”
The largest veto from the capital bill is a $10 million cut for the Statewide Addiction Treatment Facilities Capital Matching Grant. The cut was made due to the lack of plan for the funds, according to the governor’s office release, which noted that the addiction treatment facility grant needs to include more vetting before it can appropriated.
“Unfortunately, the $10 million in state funding was not attached to specific plans or proposals, nor was it requested to this administration by a specific organization or state agency,” the release said.
“A process for these types of community projects is well established within our Departments — which calls for detailed plans before awarding such large amounts of state resources.”
Rep. Gary Knopp, R-Kenai/Soldotna, said he expects the Aug. 8 vetoes will stay in the capital budget.
“I’m disappointed in the vetoed projects on the peninsula, but overall they weren’t devastating,” Knopp said.
While Knopp is disapointed with vetoed programs in SB 2002, he said he’s more concerned with HB 2001, the appropriations bill the Legislature passed containing a $1,600 Alaska Permanent Fund dividend check.
“I don’t know what the governor has planned for HB 2001,” Knopp said. “We’ll just wait and see what happens.”
HB 2001 has not been formally addressed by Dunleavy, but his spokesperson, Matt Shuckerow said the governor will address the bill Friday, Aug. 16.
In the last week, Dunleavy has made funding restorations to previously vetoed programs like early education funding and Head Start programs, funding providing legal help to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, a reduction in cuts to the University of Alaska and senior benefits. The funding restorations will be contained in HB 2001.
Rep. Ben Carpenter, R-Nikiski, said that local municipalities should be prepared to fund some of the programs that have been supported by the state in the past.
“It’s worked in the past when the money was there, but times are different,” Carpenter said. “If there’s a demand at the local level that people aren’t willing to pay for, at some point local politics has to catch up.”
Carpenter expressed hope that the governor stand his ground and maintain his position on ensuring a full, statutory PFD this year. Carpenter was part of a group of bipartisan legislators, as was Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, that sent a letter to Dunleavy last Friday to this effect.
“The amount of each year’s dividend is set in statute by a formula that has been in place and remained the same since the distribution of the very first dividends,” the letter stated. “Alaskans are fully justified in expecting their dividends to be distributed based on this traditional formula.”