Dunleavy Debacle and credit where credit is due

The editorial in the Anchorage Daily News today contains this knee-slapper:

"Whatever your feelings about the governor’s budget and its values, Gov. Dunleavy deserves credit for fulfilling his campaign promise to deliver a balanced budget. In previous years and on the campaign trail, politicians said they wanted such a budget but refused to give specifics about the cuts they would make to accomplish that feat."

Credit for fulfilling his campaign promise to deliver a balanced budget?

I remember the campaign and I spent a lot of time in this blog examining the things that Dunleavy said about the budget.

Let’s back up a bit. I was appalled by the lack of real budget coverage in Alaska before the election and the willingness of major news organizations to allow the "Permanent Fund Dividend above all else" nonsense to go largely unexamined.

It was almost as if we learned nothing during the last few years about the need for a balanced fiscal plan that acknowledges the real tradeoffs of taxes and services and state payments to Alaskans.

The ADN editorial today, and to a lesser extent, the Daily News-Miner editorial today, touch on the "give Dunleavy some credit" theme and say that he has proposed a “balanced budget.”

The proposed budget is not balanced, as it relies in part on confiscating hundreds of millions in local tax revenue from local governments. It also relies on reckless plans to do lasting damage to Alaska’s educational system, its health care system and communities throughout Southeast Alaska. It would harm hundreds of thousands of Alaskans and put Alaska at a great disadvantage for decades to come.

I give the governor all the credit in the world for the Dunleavy Debacle.

What has to be said is that Dunleavy would never have been elected had he mentioned any of these budget cuts during the campaign, a venture founded on popular promises to give Alaskans more money and prevent taxes.

There are comparisons to be made with former Gov. Frank Murkowski, who didn't mention during his campaign that the Longevity Bonus would wind up on Death Row.

The Debacle is the Murkowski Maneuver carried to an extreme. It is not a budget designed to shock Alaskans into demanding taxes, but an expression of ideology that the dividend and opposition to taxes are more important than anything else.

The ADN cites the instant endorsement of the Dunleavy Debacle by the Alaska Chamber of Commerce as evidence that Alaska’s business big shots are all on board. The state chamber doesn’t have a leader at the moment and I wonder if the rank-and-file of Alaska businesses are happy about this foolish move taken on their behalf.

I can’t imagine why any business in Southeast Alaska wants to cheer the demise of the state ferry system or why any business in Fairbanks wants to applaud the dismantling of the University of Alaska or why anyone in health care is thrilled about the destruction of the health care system. No business in Valdez, Fairbanks or the North Slope should be cheering the potential collapse of local government revenue sources.

Perhaps the Alaska Chamber has a secret master plan to shed itself of members from Ketchikan to Utqiagvik?

I still don't know if Dunleavy had any real budget plans or if all of these are the product and instigation of Donna Arduin, Tuckerman Babcock, etc.

What Dunleavy “promised” during his campaign was that we could have a sustainable budget of about $4 billion to $4.3 billion and oil was the solution. New oil in the pipeline would allow the state to grow out of it. He spent more time talking about his height than the dimensions of the fiscal challenge.

His promises about budget cuts? Those include: The false 2,000-job claim, the unfunded $4.5 million rail study, "climatologists," alleged efficiencies in Medicaid for $150 million, and $100 million from a voluntary plan to combine school health insurance plans. The state’s news organizations didn’t examine the claims.

His promises about the budget were consistent. He called for efficiency, an idea adored by every candidate with a pulse, and he said oil would fix everything:

"Today it's at $74 a barrel. You don't need to cut a billion dollars today, in today's environment. What we need to do is make sure that we get the budget down somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 billion and then that, if we do that, we could sustain a budget growing at about $70, $80 million a year."

Instead of handing out credit, let’s say that Dunleavy never promised a budget like this one, but his decision to propose it now has focused the political discussion and made a lie of the PFD platitudes and the declarations about painless budget cuts.

Dermot Cole7 Comments