Grab some popcorn

Gov. Mike Dunleavy at a press briefing this morning released his proposed budget designed to slash $1.6 billion in state spending, promising, “It’s not going to be easy.”

For the past six years, Alaska has run deficits and rather than cut government size and scope, officials have drawn down state savings.

That has to end, Dunleavy said. “We cannot continue to be all things to all people.”

It is time to “recalibrate” the state, he said, and state Office of Management and Budget director Donna Arduin added that since fiscal 2013 state spending has outstripped revenues by $16 billion.

By providing a balanced budget, the state could achieve fiscal stability that will be good for Alaska’s future, Dunleavy said, and attract investment.

“I think the investment world needs to know Alaska is serious about attracting investment and is serious about controlling their budget not letting the budget control Alaska, and that’s what happened here,” he said.

The cuts in some areas appear substantial and no area was immune. Arduin said the budget trims 600 state jobs. Dunleavy and Arduin indicated officials are looking at privatization in some areas, including the Marine Highway and Corrections. The budget contains no new taxes or Permanent Fund dividend cuts.

“It’s going to touch all Alaskans, no matter where they live or what they do.,” Dunleavy said. “We can’t continue to be all things to all people.”

Even before the budget was released to the public, lawmakers already were puffing up, vowing to save this and protect that.

The big-government Democrats and their Republican fellow travelers can be expected to fight to keep Alaska’s spending intact. Republicans will have to determine if they politically can cut this or that without committing political suicide.

Meanwhile, the House remains snarled in its 30th day as power seekers refuse to budge to create a majority caucus that can get the Legislature’s business up and running.

Dunleavy’s budget now goes to the Legislature. While we would hope otherwise, there predictably will be bitter, divisive battles as the budget’s details become known, but the hard truth is simple: Dunleavy is right. Alaska is slated to spend $1.6 billion more than it has.

The budget must be balanced. The question is: How? Dunleavy plans to do it by cutting, by basing his zero-based budget on harsh reality. Will that mean changes in government? Likely. Will that mean smaller government with less reach? Hopefully. Will it mean skewering sacred cows? Almost certainly.

Politics aside, lawmakers should be willing to work with Dunleavy to set Alaska on a more fiscally healthy course. Will they? Time will tell.

Might as well get some popcorn.

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