Anchorage Daily News editorial board can't decide on governor's race

The Anchorage Daily News has taken two strong editorial positions during the year in which the Binkley family of Fairbanks has owned the newspaper.

It celebrated the giant GOP tax cut that exploded the federal deficit and gave disproportionate benefits to the wealthiest people in the country. And it opposed the salmon initiative on the ballot next week. There may have been a few others that I have overlooked.

Now the newspaper editorial board says it can’t decide whether Mike Dunleavy or Mark Begich would make a better governor.

The newspaper editorial board includes owner Ryan Binkley, publisher Andy Pennington, Alaska Journal of Commerce Editor Andrew Jensen, opinion editor Tom Hewitt and reporter/editor Julia O’Malley.

The editorial reminds me of the aphorism about a camel being a horse that was designed by a committee.

The newspaper says it likes Dunleavy on the budget and the salmon initiative, while it prefers Begich on the Alaska Permanent Fund. The editorial board couldn’t decide on which candidate has the better approach to education or the gas line, but agrees that both are against crime.

Indecision never makes for a good editorial, but what I find most objectionable is the claim that Dunleavy has a better grasp of the budget than Begich. To me, the budget is the biggest issue, with education, the gas line, crime and the Permanent Fund inextricably connected.

Is this the same Dunleavy who proposed last year that a permanent unidentified $1.1 billion budget cut was needed to create a long-term sustainable budget for Alaska?

Is this the same Dunleavy who claims to have discovered a $200 million slush fund in the state budget that nonpartisan budget analysts say doesn’t exist?

Is this the same Dunleavy who can’t name any specific budget cuts other than “climatologists” and a $4.5 million railroad study that doesn’t exist?

Is this the same Dunleavy who wants to spend $2.4 billion from the Permanent Fund to make up for dividend reductions approved by the governor and Legislature from 2016-2018 without showing the long-term impact?

“In the editorial board's discussion, Mr. Dunleavy emerged as our pick on the issue of the budget, primarily because of his eye toward efficiency and his reticence to implement revenue measures without Alaskans' buy-in,” the committee concluded.

The phrase “eye toward efficiency” is meaningless. Nothing in the record shows that Dunleavy has a clear vision on the budget.

Like every candidate for every office, Dunleavy and Begich spout the virtues of efficiency.

And the “buy-in” from Alaskans won’t happen as long as candidates are reticent to abandon fiscal fables.

Begich has no track record on the state budget, but he says if elected he will not push for major reductions. No one running for office has identified major programs to eliminate, which means that no one has a list that will win public support.

Begich says we probably will need taxes to get beyond the foolishness of tying the state budget to oil taxes—and now investment returns—two elements that are always in motion.

Neither candidate has offered what I believe is a credible plan on the permanent fund, though Dunleavy’s puts the long-term survival of the fund at greater risk. Begich has a dubious idea to use bonds for the capital budget. Dunleavy does not have a solution for the missing capital budget, other than to force local communities to pay more.

His idea of turning over the Anchorage port to private investors for hundreds of millions in rehab work would lead to a much higher costs for most Alaskans.

Of the two, Begich is more reasonable and realistic about the budget choices facing the state.

As a reminder, the permanent fund has lost $1.5 billion in the last month, while oil prices have dropped by about $10 a barrel. Over a year, that $10 swing would mean about $800 million less in state revenue.

Our state revenue sources are unstable and unpredictable, while the demand for state services is not.

We’ve blown $14 billion from savings in the last four years—money that can’t be replaced—while Dunleavy claims that resource development will fix everything. He is saying what he thinks the voters want to hear. He might as well offer his thoughts and prayers.

Dunleavy has a track record of ducking difficult questions in the Legislature and changing his answers to suit his audience.

In 2016, Dunleavy said a sustainable long-term budget would be $4.5 billion, which is higher than it is today.

By 2017, he said the budget had to be cut to $3.4 billion, which would have meant the elimination of about 15,000 more jobs across Alaska. He never identified the $1.1 billion in cuts, but claimed there would be "no income tax, no state sales tax, no broad-based taxes.”

Now he says that he was wrong in 2017 about that $1.1 billion, but we still don’t need taxes.

The general fund budget for this year, $4.4 billion, may have to be cut by $100 million to $300 million, he says, but he won’t say how. A $300 million cut is close to what the University of Alaska gets in general funds each year.

Our politicians are so used to talking about hundreds of millions that they forget that these are gigantic sums.

But to keep services at the same level as today, the state will need to increase general fund spending next fiscal year by $200 million because of the budget gimmicks used by the Legislature.

The state has no capital budget to speak of, a growing backlog of deferred maintenance and future retirement costs that have been ignored.

Unlike the ADN editorial board, the voters don’t have the option of indecision. They have to make a choice between imperfect candidates.

Dunleavy never got a grip on the state budget during his years in the Legislature and that hasn’t changed. I’m voting for Begich.

Dermot Cole3 Comments