Brennan: Dunleavy takes on tough task
By Tom Brennan
Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget is making many people nervous, and well it should.
If enacted as proposed, a very large portion of our state government would need to be reconfigured and downsized. While it’s perhaps unlikely that the budget will be adopted whole, we should acknowledge that Dunleavy seems to have it right. This is the budget Alaska can afford with its current revenue sources — or something close to it.
Leaders at the University of Alaska say the draft budget would cost the system $134 million and require that some campuses be closed. That could happen, but it seems unlikely since such changes would have to be made while the state has substantial money in the bank. The Earnings Reserve Account of the Alaska Permanent Fund had $16.6 billion in it at the end of December and will presumably contain something on the order of $18 billion in it by the end of June.
That money is available for state spending but Dunleavy and others are reluctant to dip into it since that is where Permanent Fund dividend checks come from — and the Earnings Reserve was never tapped for much besides those dividends until last year. This year’s dividend checks as now planned will require something like $900 million.
Dunleavy is doing the right thing by drafting and proposing a budget that can be covered by the state’s expected income, which comes primarily from oil and gas taxes and royalties with a dab of money remaining in the bank from past state legal settlements on energy industry disputes. The governor and his top people are busily configuring a state workforce, programs and projects affordable with the money expected to be in the state’s till. Some call it right-sizing government. And since Dunleavy and Budget Director Donna Arduin are in some ways starting over on a workforce and programs to match available funds, the better term may be zero-based budgeting.
Alaskans are fond of their dividend checks and woe to anyone who might threaten them. I’ve grown fond of them myself though it’s hard to imagine anything like that going on forever. But this is Alaska, after all, and strange things happen ‘neath the midnight sun.My wife and I came to Alaska from Massachusetts 52 years ago next summer. The recent death of Alaska pioneer and political icon Jack Coghill reminded me of one of my strongest impressions when I first got here. In Massachusetts, when I was there, the pioneers who had fought the British and given birth to this great nation had all been dead for more than 200 years.
But in Alaska the pioneers were still here. People like Jack Coghill, Vic Fischer, Frank Peratrovich and Wally Hickel still walked the streets, talked to people and, when the need arose, still fought the good fight. They were generally affable and enjoyed conversations with people who had some idea of their accomplishments, though their approach to things was decidedly modern.
The only thing I could think of that might be comparable was going home in Massachusetts and telling your wife that you accidentally cut off Benjamin Franklin in the Sears parking lot and he had smiled and waved you on with his finger.