Dunleavy repeats claim that imaginary state slush fund could be used for Troopers

It appears that Republican nominee Mike Dunleavy is sticking to his false claims that the state budget intentionally includes a slush fund of $200 million for thousands of state jobs that are never filled.

The free money can be spent elsewhere and there will be no reduction in services.

In a weekend story on how the three crime-fighting candidates for governor intend to pay for new programs, the Anchorage Daily News allowed Dunleavy to get away with this fiction about thousands of ghost positions.

All too often this year the political coverage in the state’s largest newspaper has consisted of writing down whatever the candidates say, no questions asked. The Dunleavy claim that there are painless budget cuts is how he tries to justify his assertions that the state doesn’t need taxes or reductions in services.

“Dunleavy pointed to state positions over the past year that were funded but not filled and said some of that money could be shifted to paying for troopers and prosecuting attorneys,” the Daily News said.

“We’re looking at shifting some of those costs from within the budget into public safety,” Dunleavy said.

The newspaper also repeated his assertion that $100 million to $150 million can be saved simply by making Medicaid more efficient.

When a candidate settles on an easy talking point, it is almost impossible to give up. But this claim by Dunleavy that he has identified $400 million to $450 million that can be cut without a reduction in services has no basis in fact.

Two weeks ago Dunleavy said on public radio that only 22,000 of the 24,000 state positions funded in the budget were filled a year ago. He said the money for the 2,000 unfilled jobs is called the “vacancy factor” and it represents $200 million that can be spent on something else.

"So there's $200 million right there that can be discussed as to how we want to use that going forward. Do we want to use that money and hire more Troopers? Do we want to use that money and hire more prosecuting attorneys? Do we want to use that money and keep the courts open on Friday to improve our public safety situation?"

Dunleavy has the vacancy factor backwards. It is not about authorized positions that are funded. It is about authorized positions that are not funded.

The legislative finances staff says the vacancy factor is the "percentage by which personal services are purposely underfunded."

This is to recognize that when employees quit, get fired or retire, the positions are vacant and don't need to be funded during the weeks, months or years when the positions are vacant.

Others have claimed that there is a slush fund of $300 million to $400 million in personnel costs. But legislative employees in the finance division say that is a myth and this is a result of confusion about a complicated process.

“Funding that does not materialize cannot create slush funds. Funding that does not exist cannot be spent for personal services or for any other purpose,” the finance experts told legislators.

The Office of Management and Budget says there are 22,600 positions now in state government, down from 25,000 four years ago. There are 17,125 positions in the executive branch, while the rest are at the University of Alaska, state corporations, the court system and the Legislature.

"To stay within legislative funding limits, every day at least 900 full-time positions must be held vacant," said Pat Pitney, the director of OMB. There is no money appropriated to fill those 900 positions.

She said right now there are about 700 additional state positions that are vacant. There is money to fill those jobs, but some are in areas with high turnover and recruiting problems, such as the Alaska State Troopers, the Division of Public Assistance and the Alaska Psychiatric Institute.

She said those 700 jobs, on an annual basis, would need about $70 million to keep filled, but only $30 million is from the general fund. The rest may be from federal funds and other sources that can't be transferred. Some of the money goes to overtime to cover staff shortages.

Dermot Cole4 Comments