Dunleavy budget director moves to consolidate power over state agencies

The state budget under Gov. Mike Dunleavy is about to be centralized like never before, with power consolidated in the office of the imported slash-and-burn budget shrinker fresh off the airplane.

An administrative order signed by Dunleavy Wednesday moves key budgeting functions from 13 departments into the Office of Management and Budget under Donna Arduin, hired from the Lower 48 because she is popular with Republican governors who need someone to wield the knife.

The order says that the administrative services directors in all the agencies, “along with affected administrative services positions” will be reassigned so that they do not report to the commissioners, but to Arduin, who doesn’t know anything about Alaska.

This will give Arduin and Tuckerman Babcock, the chief of staff, more control over over state funds, while taking power away from commissioners. It’s not clear how many of these positions could eventually be eliminated.

“The purpose of this order is to streamline and increase accountability of budget and policy administration within the executive branch of state government by centralizing all significant administrative services oversight within the Office of Management and Budget in the office of the governor,” the order says.

As of Thursday night, the order had not been posted on the state website. I received copies from two sources with long experience in state government. One told me he obtained it from a state official, while the other said he obtained it from a labor leader.

It is doubtful that this will streamline and increase accountability. It may very well make each of the state agencies less responsive to the public, more bureaucratic and less able to deal with the unexpected.

The people in these positions are experts on each department’s internal operations and policies.

This is the description of that office within the Department of Transportation: “The Administrative Services Division develops policy recommendations, provides oversight, and performs a variety of administrative functions in the department. Functions include: planning, development and execution of the department operating and capital budgets, oversight of administrative and department policies and procedures, financial management and state and federal financial reporting, workforce planning, department web policy, and procurement.”

There is similar work to do in the other agencies.

It’s the kind of thing that Dunleavy should have discussed with Alaskans.

Arduin is busy cutting the budget now, so we’ll see in the proposed budget on Dec. 15 what ideas she, Dunleavy and Babcock have about right-size government.

The move is in sync with the argument raised Thursday in a column in the Anchorage Daily News in which Dunleavy backer Bob Griffin says, “If we were able to reduce the cost and number of government employees providing financial services (like accounting, budgeting, or purchasing) to the national average of state-paid finance employees, Alaska could save $62 million.”

Griffin, who says state workers are paid too much and that there are too many of them, is a board member of the Alaska Policy Forum, a right-wing group linked in the past to the Koch Brothers network. His column is packed with half-truths about the budget.

Griffin repeats the canard about the vast number of funded but unfilled positions in state government that can be cut with no pain. While Dunleavy has said over and over that there are 2,000 such positions that can be eliminated to free up $200 million, Griffin sees a smaller number.

“During the budget debates in early 2018, members of both the House and Senate dug deep and uncovered more than 1,500 “funded but unfilled” positions, according to Rep. Cathy Tilton’s office, the total cost of which added more than $150 million to the budget,” Griffin claimed.

There is no evidence that these numbers are correct, but we’ll see if the budget released Dec. 15 eliminates 1,500 or 2,000 unfilled positions, saving $150 million to $200 million without reducing any state services to Alaskans.

On the Alaska Policy Forum website, the group takes more direct aim at state employees than Griffin did in his column, quoting a superficial report that says this about the state workforce: “The total price tag for the over-employment and over-compensation combined sums up to a staggering $1.7 billion in 2016.”

Dermot Cole16 Comments