Where is the Dunleavy fiscal plan? (Hint: He doesn't have one)
Republican Mike Dunleavy can always get a laugh when he says the most important campaign question is about how tall he is, but it's no joke that he has failed to produce a coherent plan for state finances.
Let's start with the basics.
Dunleavy claims on his website that he wants to reduce state spending. He has a section that says "Reduce State Spending." He says we have a "bloated state government that spends far too much money."
"Some politicians tell us that Alaska’s operating budget has been cut to the bone. This is nonsense. The most recent budget spends over 13 percent more than the year before. If we don’t get our spending under control, no combination of taxes and PFD grab can keep up," says Dunleavy.
He's wrong. A more accurate reading of state budget statistics reveals that the budget is essentially flat.
What's more troubling is that the GOP candidate for governor can't keep his story straight on the budget.
He doesn't want to reduce spending, he wants to limit the growth of the operating budget to 2 percent a year, Dunleavy said in a written response to the Daily News-Miner before the primary election.
"All proposed fiscal plans will fail unless the growth of the operating budget is limited to no more than 2 percent per year," Dunleavy said in comments published Aug. 12.
Limiting the growth of the budget to 2 percent a year, which is essentially a flat budget that keeps up with inflation, is more realistic than previous Dunleavy utterances on spending.
But it is unrealistic to believe that Alaska can keep going without a real capital budget or to claim, as Dunleavy does, that he will spend more money on fighting crime and do all sorts of other great things. He acts as if it makes sense to believe that oil prices, now at $76, can be counted on to stay at that level or higher.
Dunleavy told the News-Miner he cannot name a specific state program that he wants to eliminate or reduce, but he would like to audit all programs to make sure they are efficient. This could save $400 million, he said on Talk of Alaska Tuesday. When you run for office, the big numbers just roll off the tongue and sound like the easiest thing in the world.
Everybody loves efficiency. Had all of this been so easy, Dunleavy would have found many converts in the Legislature looking to save $400 million.
On Tuesday, Dunleavy repeated his statement that he wants to limit budget growth to 2 percent a year, starting from $4.1 billion, which is $200 million lower than the projected starting point he gave to the News-Miner a month ago.
Contradictory and implausible claims about state finances from Dunleavy are nothing new. His track record in the Legislature included a series of unworkable budget ideas.
In early 2016, Dunleavy said everything would be perfect if we could cut the budget to $4.5 billion.
He wrote that "we should be in a fairly good position to have a sustainable budget of $4.5 billion going into the future that could be sustained through the revenues we currently bring in as well as a draw on the earnings reserve account" of the Permanent Fund.
At that time it was an article of faith among Republicans that $4.5 billion was the magic number and it would lead us to nirvana with no cuts to the dividend, no taxes and no reduction in any service people cared about.
But a year later, Dunleavy had a new magic number, saying he had a sustainable budget plan to cut $1.1 billion over four years.
"Taxing Alaskans, and/or taking the PFD to cover the large fiscal gap is not necessary. Substantial reductions, however, are needed so existing resources currently at our disposal can be deployed to get us on a path to a sustainable budget," he said.
His said there would be "No income tax, no state sales tax, no broad-based taxes. No new taxes are required." The former teacher said his math had been checked by "several people."
With the statistics he distributed for his imaginary budget, Dunleavy included the comment that "future Alaskans can decide to tax themselves" if they wanted to.
Dunleavy's brother, Francis, and Alaskan Bob Penney have dumped a fortune into the Dunleavy shadow campaign, and claim that Mike "proposed a balanced budget solution that doesn’t require new taxes or raiding the People’s Permanent Fund Dividend."
There never was a Dunleavy budget solution and he never identified what reductions he had in mind. His $1.1 billion fantasy would have eliminated at least 15,000 jobs across Alaska. Even his fellow Republican budget hawks thought he was promising hundreds of millions in impossible cuts. They were right.
It was about that time when Dunleavy complained that he wanted people to stop asking him "What do you want to cut?" as the first question. It made him uncomfortable.
He said the first thing to do was to figure out how much Alaskans wanted to spend, instead of dealing with all the controversy that comes with announcing cuts and getting attacked. Settle that number and the cuts would follow, he said.
"It's a lockbox. And then you kind of duke it out, if you need to … inside that lockbox," said Dunleavy a year-and-a-half ago.
Anyone who thinks the state budget is ever going to be decided with a lockbox is spinning a tall tale.
The first and last question to Dunleavy and anyone else who claims to support budget cuts is, "What do you want to cut?"