Dunleavy told AFN he expected budget with no 'cuts in programs'
The question put to Mike Dunleavy during the 2018 Alaska Federation of Natives convention was clear:
“Does your plan for leading Alaska out of this fiscal crisis include additional cuts to state departments? If so, which departments? And specifically, which programs and how much do you intend to further cut?”
His answer was not as clear, but Dunleavy said he would not cut programs:
“The first thing I would do, and we’re looking at this now, is actually looking at how we can manage this state better. We’ve got a report that, for example, Medicaid and programs in health and social services have overpaid to providers almost $300 million. This approach to government’s gotta change. We’ve got to be able to manage our funds better. We have to be able to manage our resources better.”
“I also would be looking at potentially consolidating, on a volunteer basis, the insurances, for example, for school districts and cities and municipalities, to bring them into the state Alaska Care to drive down the cost. There have been estimates that if we do that we could save anywhere from $100 to $150 million going forward. I would start with these efficiencies first in order to realize some cost savings.”
“We also have, for example, a fast rail study from Palmer to Anchorage, where I live, in the valley. We don’t need to be paying $4.5 million for a fast rail study at this point when we need money for Troopers. We need money for prosecuting attorneys. So I’ll be looking at those items first before we really get into talking about any reductions in terms of cuts in programs first.”
Dunleavy was wrong about the fast rail study, a proposal by the Walker administration that was rejected by the Legislature after he quit the Senate to run for governor. For months Dunleavy had been citing this as one of his few specific budget cuts.
Later in the AFN presentation on Oct. 19, he made indirect reference to columns I had written accurately quoting his comments last spring at Bible Baptist Church in Fairbanks in which he agreed with an audience member that the smallest rural schools should close and students should be sent to regional boarding schools to save money.
At AFN he contradicted what he had said in the Baptist Church. He told AFN he would not close small schools and that he would spend more money on rural education. The plan he outlined would have cost tens of millions a year, allowing students to travel from home villages to rural hubs and back again.
“There is a narrative that I want to close down rural schools, the very schools that I worked in, the very schools that my wife went to, that my relatives go to now,” he told AFN.
“What I want to do is beef up what we have in the regional areas like Kotzebue, Nome, Barrow, Bethel, so that kids can go to school there, potentially take some college classes,” Dunleavy said.
The expanded options at the rural hubs could potentially also offer vocational training. “But it’s to enhance, not to take away,” Dunleavy said.
“In the hub areas, beef up those high schools that are in the hub areas. Get some dorm facilities in the hub areas, so that kids can come into the hub areas for terms as they call them, for maybe physics, or biology labs, chemistry labs, because right now they are at disadvantage,” Dunleavy said.
At various times during his campaign, Dunleavy said he would not cut education.
Despite those promises and the major expansion plans he suggested to AFN, the budget proposed by Dunleavy would reduce spending on education throughout the state by 25 percent, putting the survival of some small schools in jeopardy.