Carley Rose Kelley; First Lady of Alaska Rose Dunleavy; Department of Corrections officer Sergeant Ken Noland and Alaska’s first Miss America pageant winner Emma Boyles, applaud Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s State of the State address on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. Kelley was a guest of the governor for her work as a recovering addict turned advocate for at-risk and homeless youth, and received one of the longest rounds of applause when the governor introduced her during his speech. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Carley Rose Kelley; First Lady of Alaska Rose Dunleavy; Department of Corrections officer Sergeant Ken Noland and Alaska’s first Miss America pageant winner Emma Boyles, applaud Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s State of the State address on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. Kelley was a guest of the governor for her work as a recovering addict turned advocate for at-risk and homeless youth, and received one of the longest rounds of applause when the governor introduced her during his speech. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Lawmakers welcome tone change in governor’s address

With caveats on financials, legislators optimistic about working together

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s State of the State address Tuesday night was well met by many lawmakers who saw the speech as a departure from a previous focus on trimming the state’s budget.

In a meeting with reporters immediately following the address, members of the Senate Republican leadership repeatedly used the word “optimistic” to describe the speech, and said they hoped it signaled a better relationship between the governor and the Legislature.

“I want to give the governor a high-five,” said Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage.

Costello and other Republican senators said they felt the governor’s speech was hopeful and encouraging.

“It was a very positive speech,” said Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, “The governor said many things I think most Alaskans would agree with.”

At several points in his speech, Dunleavy stressed the need for mutual cooperation in order to solve the state’s problems, something Micciche and other lawmakers said they appreciated.

But there was also reservation from some lawmakers regarding the state’s budget. Dunleavy said in his speech Alaska’s budget deficit had been significantly reduced and that high oil prices and strong returns for the Alaska Permanent Fund put the state in a better financial position. Yet at the same time, the governor promoted several goals of his administration that will require significant investment and future spending.

[Dunleavy paints optimistic picture in State of the State address]

Those include the governor’s People First initiative, an effort to reduce the rates of sexual and domestic violence in the state, and provide better services for people struggling with addiction and homelessness. At the speech, Dunleavy introduced Carley Rose Kelley, a person in recovery from addiction and advocate for the People First initiative. After the speech Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, noted Kelley received the longest round of applause from the audience and said the initiative was something he thought most lawmakers could easily get behind.

But Bishop, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, noted that the state has annually increased the public safety budget while making cuts to social services.

That Dunleavy had previously cut many of the programs he touted in his speech didn’t go unnoticed by several lawmakers.

Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, noted the governor’s budget had reduced several areas of the state government meant to address the very issues Dunleavy said needed to be improved.

“The budget has been flat for years, efficiencies have been squeezed and squeezed and squeezed,” Stevens said. “Looking forward I think we have to look back as well when this governor really decimated some areas.”

But Stevens said he welcomed the change in the governor’s tone and hoped it signaled a change in the way Dunleavy would work with the Legislature.

Carley Rose Kelley; First Lady of Alaska Rose Dunleavy; Department of Corrections officer Sergeant Ken Noland and Alaska’s first Miss America pageant winner Emma Boyles, applaud Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s State of the State address on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. Kelley was a guest of the governor for her work as a recovering addict turned advocate for at-risk and homeless youth, and received one of the longest rounds of applause when the governor introduced her during his speech. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Carley Rose Kelley; First Lady of Alaska Rose Dunleavy; Department of Corrections officer Sergeant Ken Noland and Alaska’s first Miss America pageant winner Emma Boyles, applaud Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s State of the State address on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. Kelley was a guest of the governor for her work as a recovering addict turned advocate for at-risk and homeless youth, and received one of the longest rounds of applause when the governor introduced her during his speech. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Democratic lawmakers were less generous in their reception of the address.

“Don’t forget that Joe Biden balanced Mike Dunleavy’s budget,” said Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, referring to the federal funding the state had received which Dunleavy has used in his proposed budget. “He mentioned expansion of the (the Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho program at the University of Washington School of Medicine) program. At the same time, we and students are in litigation over the sweeping of the investment fund.”

Dunleavy’s previous Attorney General Kevin Clarkson wrote an opinion that added several state funds to an accounting device used by the state known as “the sweep.” But the decision to add the higher education funding and the Power Cost Equalization fund were both met with litigation. Last year, a court ruled against the administration in regards to the PCE program and hearings on the higher education funding will be heard next week.

In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, thanked the governor for his support for renewable energy, education and other state programs but criticized his attacks on the Biden administration which he said has given considerable support to the state.

“The support from the Biden Administration has jump-started our economy to overcome our deficit, is driving us to renewable energy, and is helping us to substantially expand broadband,” Begich said. “So, if we are going to learn to work together, it has to start with improving the relationship between the Governor and our federal Administration. That’s on the Governor.”

Several Democrats, Begich included, criticized the governor for not acknowledging the need for new revenues and basing his optimism for the state’s finances on oil prices and the stock market, which Begich and other lawmakers noted can change significantly and quickly. Dunleavy previously called on lawmakers to identify new revenues in one of last summer’s four special session, but made no mention of revenues in his remarks.

“If we don’t work toward a sustainable and comprehensive fiscal plan, the Alaska that we all cherish will become even more divided by partisan and election politics,” Begich said.

Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, was similarly disappointed by the governor’s rhetoric concerning the Biden administration and said he hoped the governor’s remarks about collaboration were earnest and not due to election season politics.

“I’m going to work with Legislature and the administration based on an assumption of good faith,” Kiehl said in an interview with the Empire. “Hopefully, he sticks to what he said instead of what he’s spent the last three years doing.”

Kiehl said he was glad to hear the governor reverse his policies regarding the University of Alaska and mental health among other issues, and that believed there to be strong bipartisan support to resolve those issues.

“I really appreciated his call to all of us to get things done, to work together,” said Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau. It’s always important that leadership does that.”

Story said he appreciated the governor introducing several Alaskans during his speech and the personal stories behind those individuals. Though surprised there was no mention of the Alaska Marine Highway System, Story said it was good to hear the governor’s vision for Alaska and said there were many things in the speech lawmakers could easily get behind, a comprehensive reading bill among them.

Lawmakers said they were hopeful the governor’s comments about working together would be reflected by his administration’s actions. Micciche noted after the speech the governor had not often been present at the Capitol building in the past, and said he hoped that would change.

• Contact reporter Peter Segall at psegall@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.

Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer; Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna; Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak and Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, speak to reporters Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, immediately following Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s State of the State address. Members of the Senate Republican leadership said they appreciated the governor’s optimism, and hoped it signaled a better relationship between the administration and the Legislature. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer; Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna; Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak and Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, speak to reporters Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, immediately following Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s State of the State address. Members of the Senate Republican leadership said they appreciated the governor’s optimism, and hoped it signaled a better relationship between the administration and the Legislature. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

More in News

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Members of the Alaska House of Representatives on Saturday rejected the budget bill passed by the Senate earlier in the week. The bill will now go to a bicameral committee for negotiations, but the end of the legislative session is Wednesday.
House votes down Senate’s budget as end of session nears

State budget now goes to negotiating committee

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Candidate for Alaska’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives Tara Sweeney, a Republican, was in Juneau on Monday and sat down with the Empire for an interview. Sweeney said the three main pillars of her campaign are the economy, jobs and healthy communities.
Sweeney cites experience in run for Congress

GOP candidate touts her history of government-related work

One tree stands in front of the Kenai Post Office on Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai taking down hazard beetle trees

The city hopes to leverage grant funds for most of the work

Former Alaska governor and current congressional hopeful Sarah Palin speaks with attendees at a meet-and-greet event outside of Ginger’s Restaurant on Saturday, May 14, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Palin brings congressional bid to Soldotna

The former governor took time Saturday to sign autographs and take pictures with attendees

In this October 2019 photo, Zac Watt, beertender for Forbidden Peak Brewery, pours a beer during the grand opening for the Auke Bay business in October 2019. On Sunday, the Alaska House of Representatives OK’d a major update to the state’s alcohol laws. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Graphic by Ashlyn O'Hara
Borough, school district finalizing $65M bond package

Efforts to fund maintenance and repairs at school district facilities have been years in the making

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Members of the House Majority Coalition spent most of Friday, May 13, 2022, in caucus meetings at the Alaska State Capitol, discussing how to proceed with a large budget bill some have called irresponsible. With a thin majority in the House of Representatives, there’s a possibility the budget could pass.
State budget work stretches into weekend

Sessions have been delayed and canceled since Wednesday

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Alaskans for Better Government members La quen náay Liz Medicine Crow, Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson and ‘Wáahlaal Gidáak Barbara Blake embrace on the floor of the Alaska State Senate following the passage of House Bill 123, a bill to formally recognize the state’s 229 federally recognized tribes.
Tribal recognition bill clears Senate, nears finish line

Senators say recognition of tribes was overdue

The Alaska Division of Forestry’s White Mountain crew responds to a fire burning near Milepost 46.5 of the Sterling Highway on Tuesday, May 10, 2022, near Cooper Landing, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Cooper Landing Emergency Services)
Officials encourage residents to firewise homes

The central peninsula has already had its first reported fires of the season

Most Read