Crime bill comes with tough talk, big pricetag and no money to implement it

When Gov. Mike Dunleavy signed the crime bill last week, he reprised his tough talk about Alaska’s criminal element.

“To the criminals, I mentioned this in the State of the State speech: this is not your time, and this is the time to get out of the state,'“ said Dunleavy. “With signing this bill, we’re serious. If you’re going to try and prey on Alaskans we’re coming after you, we will prosecute you.”

He said the “thin blue line” would have new tools to catch and lock up hundreds of more criminals every year. The state estimates it will have 750 more criminals behind bars in the first year of the bill.

But there is a problem. It deals with a not-so-thin political line.

The money to implement the tough talk on crime is missing.

The Legislative Finance Division says the Legislature decided to fund the crime crackdown with specific withdrawals from the Power Cost Equalization fund. But the money is not available because of the so-called “sweep” and a reclassification decision by the governor’s office, the legislative analysts say.

(The sweep is the provision under which certain state accounts are moved at the end of the fiscal year into the Constitutional Budget Reserve fund. Two important points: First, the Dunleavy administration made a policy decision that the PCE fund and the funds for state scholarships should be subjected to this rule, which differs from the way previous governors have interpreted the law. Second, House Republicans, led by Rep. Lance Pruitt, whose wife is a top Dunleavy contract employee, blocked the technical legislation that would have avoided this mess in the first place.)

As a result, the PCE payments that subsidize rural electric rates for thousands of Alaskans are on hold. Scholarships for thousands of Alaskans are on hold. Payments for Alaska medical school students are on hold. And so is the money for the crime bill, according to a legislative review.

A letter from temporary budget director Donna Arduin to legislative leaders about the sweep mess claims that the governor was not involved in this decision and “no political influence took place when making these determinations.”

Whenever you see a line like that, you can feel confident that it was political. It was a policy decision. If the governor was not involved, he should have been.

There are many budget items the Legislature needs to fix to overcome the “government by veto” approach by Dunleavy. This is one of them. It remains to be seen if it will happen.

Dermot Cole3 Comments