Last week, I signed a budget that narrowly avoided a government shutdown. It’s a budget that significantly reduces spending by just over $200 million, but ultimately threatens no jobs or programs. These reductions were carefully targeted at money that was added by the Legislature. You won’t find any wild slashes or “cruel” cuts.
Unfortunately, it’s also an unfinished budget. After receiving my spending proposal over 200 days ago, the Legislature was unable to make any progress on the big problems facing Alaska. Despite surging revenues and historic federal relief funding, the PFD was inexplicably cut to $500. This cruel joke, perpetrated on Alaskans, amounted to the lowest amount in history when accounting for inflation.
As a result, I was left with little choice but to veto both the PFD and legislative per diem. This was not an attack on the Legislature, but rather an issue of fairness and a simple acknowledgement that people come before government. Until the job is done, legislators who oppose a fair PFD won’t be collecting three PFDs a week in per diem while critical programs like the dividend, Power Cost Equalization, and university scholarships are left in shambles.
Legislators will be returning this August, and I’ll insist that each of these programs are restored, and in the case of the PFD and PCE, protected in the constitution forever.
Thankfully, there are many legislators taking these issues seriously. Earlier this year, a majority of senators voted for a $2,350 PFD — the first step in constitutionalizing the PFD. The same applies in the House, where a full PFD failed by a single vote.
Others have chosen to lash out. Since complaining about per diem isn’t a great look, they’ve resorted to feigning outrage about the budget vetoes. Unsurprisingly, my office hasn’t received a single call from a state employee about to lose their job. That’s because these vetoes were carefully targeted at empty positions and duplicative outlays. That doesn’t mean the vetoes weren’t impactful. While the positions may be unfilled, that money still gets spent every year. Removing the unfilled position “slush fund” will ultimately benefit all Alaskans.
What it does mean is that every time you hear someone decrying the “devastating cuts” or “slashes,” they’re either misinformed, or more likely, they’re being dishonest to score political points.
A quick look at their accusations is enough to realize that these “crippling cuts” fall apart when the facts are brought to light. For example, the ferry system has received a modest funding boost in line with the 18-month funding agreement between the Legislature and myself. With the implementation of the AMHS advisory board happening soon and the sale of the ill-suited and costly fast ferries, AMHS is stronger than it’s been in many years.
Another patently false claim is that education funding has been devastated. Not only was the university system’s funding held harmless this year, the spending compact’s deadline was extended by a year to allow for recovery from the pandemic and associated economic downturn. Feel free to verify this for yourself in the university’s own press release.
Likewise, with over half-a-billion dollars in federal aid received, it’s safe to say that no K-12 institution is receiving less money than last year. In fact, these schools were once again granted a waiver, allowing them to carry over funding from the previous year.
Other assorted claims are equally baseless. Public health nursing and foster care spending has not been cut by a single dollar. Rest assured that every foster parent will receive the payments they are owed, and every public health nurse will remain employed.
The bottom line is that the sky is not falling on state government, and after working hand-in-hand with communities throughout the pandemic, it’s disappointing to hear rhetoric about a “manufactured crisis” and “cruel” budget cuts. As the makers of these claims are well aware, neither of these statements are grounded in reality.
It’s telling that the people misrepresenting the budget are, in many cases, the same people trying to fleece Alaskans of their PFD while putting PCE at risk to do so. Despite skyrocketing oil prices, a booming stock market, and historic federal aid, they cling to their mantra: “We have to take your money in order to protect you from our taxes!”
I suggest they tell that to the single mom of three as they toss her crumbs with the lowest PFD in history. Tell that to the senior trying to make ends meet as legislators take away two months of rent. Tell that to the local business owner who benefits from PFD spending. Tell that to the local municipalities who factor in the PFD when calculating sales tax projections.
Where is the outrage?
Why do those who support PFD cuts never consider the families and individuals left behind by their disastrous policies? Can anyone explain how grabbing lump sums of cash from Alaskans’ pockets isn’t the most regressive taxation policy on earth?
As for me, I’ll continue to put Alaskans first. My job may be to keep government and services online, but my highest calling is to Alaskans and Alaskan families. The PFD and PCE do exactly that, and I won’t stop fighting until we do right by Alaskans.
Mike Dunleavy is the 12th governor of the state of Alaska.