Dunleavy didn't campaign on anything he wants to cut from the state budget

Critics and supporters of the Dunleavy budget bomb keep saying, “No one should be surprised because this is what he campaigned on.”

I have a different view, having tracked what he said about the budget while seeking the state’s highest office.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy didn’t campaign on anything that he announced this week.

Not a single one of his major budget cuts came up during his campaign. And some of his promises—such as the pledge made to the Alaska Federation of Natives to increase funding for rural schools—have already been abandoned.

The biggest budget cut he mentioned during his campaign never materialized. He claimed on many occasions that the state had 2,000 funded but unfilled positions that he would cut to save $200 million, money he would use to fight crime.

Of the cuts he mentioned as a candidate, Dunleavy did promise to end the $4.5 million commuter rail study that was never funded and he hasn’t hired a climate change adviser, but there’s not much beyond that except boilerplate pledge to make everything efficient.

The real list is one of the budget cuts that Dunleavy didn’t make part of his campaign.

He didn’t campaign on depriving poor people of health insurance by cutting $761 million from Medicaid, a proposal that could cause hardship across the state and cost 8,000 to 10,000 jobs. He didn’t campaign on ending dental care for poor adults on Medicaid or ending Head Start grants.

He didn’t campaign on wiping out public broadcasting or getting rid of the state ferry system, closing major campuses of the University of Alaska or laying off thousands of teachers in K-12 schools.

He didn’t campaign on depriving communities of property tax revenue linked to oil and gas or abolishing the state arts council. He didn’t campaign on ending the senior citizen cash assistance program for the poor or stopping pre-K programs.

Had he mentioned his plans to cut ferries in Southeast, he would have lost a great deal of support. Had he mentioned his plans to set the University of Alaska back 40 years, he would have been hit hard in Fairbanks. Had he mentioned his plan to confiscate property taxes from oil and gas facilities, Valdez would have had no time for him.

My theory on why Dunleavy didn’t mention any of these things is that he had no idea what he was going to do with the budget if he managed to win. Whatever substantial ideas he had for cuts, he didn’t mention them.

He was unable to name a single significant program to cut or eliminate when he announced his plan in 2017 to cut $1 billion over four years, unwilling to be pinned down, the pattern he continued as a candidate.

Dunleavy now says the reason he never mentioned any real cuts during his campaign is because oil was selling for $75 in the early fall. Perhaps he conned himself into thinking that it would forever be $75 a barrel, justifying his lack of budget candor and/or planning.

In the end, he conned Alaskans with happy talk about the Permanent Fund Dividend, never acknowledging that the real fiscal challenge facing Alaska is how to manage difficult tradeoffs. Those tradeoffs include balancing taxes and the demand for public services.

Alaskans are not demanding the budget cuts Dunleavy announced this week, but they are demanding that he work with the Legislature and come up with a better approach.

The budget is controlled by visiting budget director Donna Arduin, a woman with no connections to Alaska other than what she has made in the last two months. That has to end.

The wholesale elimination of programs and the destruction of public services proposed in the Arduin budget is not what Alaska needs.

Dermot Cole7 Comments