Brian Holst, president of the Juneau School District’s Board of Education, left, Kristin Bartlett, JSD Chief of Staff, center, and Bridget Weiss, JSD Superintendent, watch from the gallery as the Senate Finance Committee listens to a supplemental budget offered by Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s Office of Management and Budget Director Donna Arduin at the Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Brian Holst, president of the Juneau School District’s Board of Education, left, Kristin Bartlett, JSD Chief of Staff, center, and Bridget Weiss, JSD Superintendent, watch from the gallery as the Senate Finance Committee listens to a supplemental budget offered by Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s Office of Management and Budget Director Donna Arduin at the Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Senators voice concerns with Dunleavy’s proposed cuts to education, village officers

Some had issue with cutting $20 million from schools

Senators on both sides of the aisle packed a room in the Capitol Tuesday morning to hear more about the governor’s new proposal to cut $20 million from K-12 schools and $3 million from Village Public Safety Officer programs.

Office of Management and Budget Director Donna Arduin and Budget Director Lacey Sanders presented a line-by-line walk-through of the fiscal year 2019 supplemental budget released on Monday, during the Senate Finance Committee.

Arduin said the $20 million for schools, although approved through legislation in May 2018 as one-time funding, has not actually been distributed to schools, and isn’t scheduled to be delivered until early February.

But Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, said that many school districts already have the money prioritized in their budgets for the 2018-2019 school year, so the proposed cuts would be challenging. He and other senators questioned whether there had been any discussions with school districts prior to Monday’s announcement.

“You should be talking to the school districts first,” Bishop told Arduin.

Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, also asked if the governor’s office had asked school districts whether they’re being caught by surprise.

On Monday, Juneau School District Superintendent Bridget Weiss told the Empire in an interview that this would most definitely take them by surprise, as they approved their budget for the 2018-2019 school year last year with the expected revenue that was promised by the state as a part of this $20 million appropriation. Weiss was also in the crowd at the meeting on Tuesday.

Sen. Natasha von Imhof, R-Anchorage, the committee’s co-chair, said there are 17 agencies that have planned their budget accordingly for the fiscal year.

“This agency versus any of the other 16 agencies, if your budget is decreased in mid-year based on planning, the question I have is what makes education different from any other agency?” she said. “Or should we not do it to any agency? There are other agencies that also could be looked at.”

Arduin said that since the money had not yet been given out to the districts, they shouldn’t have planned to spend it.

“It is my contention that school districts and other entities seeking money or expecting money from the state should not be anticipating spending money that’s not been allocated to them,” she said.

This logic was essentially the opposite of what Gov. Dunleavy has used in his defense of the Permanent Fund Dividend, argued Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel.

“SB 142 and HB 287 total supplements of $50 million ($20 million this year, $30 million next year), those two particular pieces of legislation are the law of the land,” Hoffman said. “I thought that the administration’s position was that once 9a bill became) the law, that’s what the administration wanted to follow. This was particularly pointed out by the governor when he talked about dividends, so what’s the difference between requirement of the law of the land on dividends and the laws of the land on (these bills)?”

Arduin responded that appropriations are the law of the land “until we request to change them.”

Village Public Safety Officer Program

Senate Democrats were unsatisfied with proposed cuts to the VPSO program.

During his State of the State address, Dunleavy declared a “war on criminals.” The proposed supplementary budget addresses this priority by offering increased funding to maintain and renovate trooper housing in rural Alaska and a 7.5 percent salary increase for Alaska State Trooper retention and recruitment efforts.

In opposition to this increase, his administration proposes cutting $3 million from VPSO programs.

“I find it not just hypocritical, but it’s even more concerning than that,” said Sen. Donald Olson, D-Golovin, in an interview with the Empire. “How can you (declare war on criminals) and then start pulling money from public safety?”

The same recruitment and retention issues that the governor addresses with increased funding also exist for the VPSOs, said Hoffman.

“Taking the money at this time (from the VPSO program) is short-sighted and does not do justice to the services that are required for the people in the far-flung corners of Alaska,” Hoffman said at the meeting. “We need to look at the intent of the programs and ask why these positions aren’t being filled. We need to ask those questions so that we are providing public safety for the troopers and the VPSOs equally and not creating two different classes of people in Alaska that need protection that is due them.”

Rep. David Talerico, R-Healy, said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon that several of the communities that he represents have VPSOs, but he would have to “look into” how the proposed $3 million cut would help solve the recruiting problem.

“I hope we have some serious discussions about what direction we think we should go to provide public safety there,” Talerico said. “We really do need to talk about how we provide a better service out there.”

He said the key thing right now regarding the supplementary budget is for the house to get organized, because they cannot do anything to address the bills until that happens.

Olson said a VPSO officer in his district already contacted him with concerns over the cut in funds. She was not available for comment for deadline.

“VPSOs are the first line of defense for tens of thousands of rural Alaskans,” Olson said in a press release Tuesday. “That money was appropriated last year to help recruit and retain highly qualified public safety officials, and I haven’t seen anything from this administration that has encouraged that desire. Pulling the rug out from underneath safe communities in rural Alaska is unacceptable. My constituents depend on these officers. I anticipate this is just the start of the broken promises of the Dunleavy Administration.”


• Contact reporter Mollie Barnes at mbarnes@juneauempire.com or 523-2228.


Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, asks a question as the Senate Finance Committee listens to a supplemental budget offered by Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s Office of Management and Budget Director Donna Arduin at the Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, center, and Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, are in the background. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla, asks a question as the Senate Finance Committee listens to a supplemental budget offered by Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s Office of Management and Budget Director Donna Arduin at the Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, center, and Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, are in the background. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s Office of Management and Budget Director Donna Arduin presents the governor’s supplemental budget to the Senate Finance Committee at the Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s Office of Management and Budget Director Donna Arduin presents the governor’s supplemental budget to the Senate Finance Committee at the Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

More in News

Alaska House Speaker Louise Stutes, center, along with leaders of the House majority coalition, Rep. Bryce Edgmon, left and Rep. Kelly Merrickspeaks, right, speak to reporters on the final day of a special legislative session in Juneau, Alaska Friday, June 18, 2021. The special legislative session limped toward a bitter end Friday, with Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy and House majority leaders sharply disagreeing over the adequacy of the budget passed by lawmakers earlier this week. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)
Special session limps toward its end, another looms

Gov. Mike Dunleavy and House majority leaders sharply disagreed on the adequacy of the budget passed by lawmakers.

Brent Hibbert (left) presents Tim Dillon with a commending resolution on Tuesday in Soldotna. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
KPEDD honored with assembly resolution

The resolution praised, among other things, KPEDD’s work in helping distribute federal COVID-19 relief funds.

The Kenai Public Dock is seen on Friday, June 18, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O'Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai dock repairs substantially complete

The dock, which was built in 1986, sustained damage from multiple earthquakes, including in November of 2018.

Screenshot 
A recently released map by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration shows the vast areas of low data speeds and access by broadband users across Alaska and the rest of the U.S.
White House laying groundwork for improved internet infrastructure

In Alaska, providers are looking at their own improvments to access.

Kate Cox, 12, testifies before the Kenai City Council on Wednesday, June 16, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Council, public voice support for Triumvirate land donation

The land is located near Daubenspeck Park by the Kenai Walmart.

Part of the hose line laid around the perimeter of the 102-acre Loon Lake Fire to help firefighters extinguish any hot spots is seen on Thursday, June 17, 2021 on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. (Bryan Quimby/Gannett Glacier Fire Crew)
Loon Lake Fire reaches 100% containment

The 102-acre fire was first reported on the evening of June 12 and is said to have been caused by lightning.

A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft assigned to the 25th Fighter Squadron taxi during exercise Red Flag-Alaska 21-02 at Eielson Air Force Base on June 14. 
Tech. Sgt. Peter Thompson / U.S. Air Force
Air Force kicks off major multinational exercise in Alaska

More than 100 aircraft from three countries will be involved.

Ron Gillham, who represents District 30 in the Alaska House of Representatives, is seen here in this undated photo. (Courtesy Ron Gillham)
Gillham files intent to run in 2022 primary

Gillham did not indicate the office he plans to run for.

Most Read