Brennan: Slower pay might be acceptable

By Tom Brennan |

Note to Governor Mike Dunleavy: you have my permission to pay me a regular Permanent Fund dividend this year and get caught up on the balance outstanding in future years.

This is a serious offer though I realize having one person volunteer— or even a few — won’t make much of a dent in a multibillion-dollar problem. But the governor already has a lot of people thinking hard about how the state will meet its obligations while spending a lot less money than in the past. Getting the job done will require insight and that is almost certain to be the overall result of the painful process.

One of the great things about the approach Dunleavy is taking is that people throughout the system are noodling the problem of how to get their jobs done while spending a lot less money. They almost certainly won’t get the whole job done this year but having managers and key employees throughout the system working on it should do a lot of good. 

That effort will almost certainly identify problem sources and point the system in the right direction. And once the state’s managers get that kind of direction, they might just set Alaska on the right direction for an effective, well-managed system.

Unquestionably we are likely to lose some good people whose jobs are identified as optional, or who decide to move on to greener and more stable pastures, but the process seems almost certain to get things moving in a necessary direction in Alaska.

A friend came by my house for coffee the other day and our conversation quickly drifted to how the state’s budget options could be simplified.

One idea that surfaced is the question of why the University of Alaska has so many campuses spread over such a large area. Budgeteers may well find that the university is well-organized and its campuses are well-located, but since it has eight campuses spread over a vast area the question should be asked whether that makes sense.

The university has sizable campuses in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Juneau with smaller community campuses in Kenai, Kodiak, the Mat-Su, Prince William Sound, Sitka and Ketchikan. It seems to be doing a fine job but at times like this the question needs to be asked whether it is over-stretched and could do its job with fewer people and less real estate.

One obvious problem that must be addressed with all state government organizations is whether they have outgrown their range of effectiveness when money was available and proposed growth was still deemed a good idea. Obviously yesteryear.

Such good ideas sometimes don’t look the same when money is tight and every location, every job, must be justified once again. That can be frustrating for those who must fight the same battles over and over, but times like these are fortunately rare.

Governor Dunleavy’s approach of handing the problem to those closest to it is a good one. And the notion of paying a full Permanent Fund dividend this year and repaying all for the amounts they were shorted in 2016, 2017 and 2018 is a nice idea. But the Legislature, in whose lap the problem now rests, may find that a slower pay on the missing past dividends would be acceptable to most Alaskans.

As they used to say, I’d rather have them owe it to me than cheat me out of it.

4 Responses to Brennan: Slower pay might be acceptable

  1. R-Dubya March 10, 2019 at 8:40 am

    Well said Tom Brennan. However, while every Department deserves a complete ‘fit for purpose’ analysts, making adjustments as needed, why not start the conversation with the largest budget item …. H&HS (Health and Human Services)? It seems like this would be a target rich environment to find opportunities to cut the fat, waste, inefficiencies, and truly ‘not needed’ programs.

    Hopefully, your coffee conversation included such topics as:
    – Let individual communities pick up more of the tab for services ‘they’ want and expect to receive (shifting the cost to those benefactors).
    – Privatizing State services.
    – Eliminating public employee unions.
    – Downsizing the number of State employees.
    – Redefine ‘Roles & Responsibilities’ of State employees whereby the ultimate goal is to consolidate roles and increasing responsibilities, eliminating waste.
    – Adjust compensation packagess for all State employees so its inline with the private sector as well as performance based.
    – Completely eliminating programs and services that are truly non-essential.
    These are but only a few topics worthy to explore, many others to follow during this painful but, necessary process.

    I still believe the best path forward is to basically cut 20% from every budget (except DOT) and let the Department Managers make the necessary decisions to execute their work with a smaller budget.

    Obviously, ‘reasonable’ folks see that the current path we’ve historically taken is leading to some type of taxation to make up the deficit. It shouldn’t be any surprise that we cannot continue this mindset / path and we cannot Tax our way to Prosperity. We truly need to ‘Right Size’ our State government with reasonable and responsible spending.

  2. Elizabeth March 10, 2019 at 10:17 am

    My husband and I are both UAA grads and we have a daughter that graduated from UAF – I am very supportative of a strong state university system but see ample room for cost savings.
    The issue of satellite campuses definitely needs to be addressed in the streamlining of the UA system. There was a cost study done several years ago and now I cannot find it although read it a couple of years ago. Quite a substantial amount of money is spent in operating the myriad of small community campuses. The list is bigger than what you have listed – each main campus has several satellites. Nome, Bethel, Kotzebue also each have brick and mortar facilities and I believe there are more. I did find a facilities analysis done in 2009 of all the UA facilities –

    In this age of distance education and the ease of online classes it certainly seems most of the small satellites could be closed.

  3. A.M. Johnson March 11, 2019 at 11:53 am

    Both above comments are worthy. However, reading the adjacent article regarding a minute look at the current direction of the House one has to come to the conclusion that “Can Kicking” is alive and well. Obviously the low hanging fruit of the dividend is at risk once more till it remains a historical item of interest.
    There is no “Pain” demonstrated within this initial escapement of a house proposal except on the silent body of unsuspected folk trusting their elective representatives to do “Right”, ya, right into your pocket without a thank you or fair you well.

  4. Vera Crews March 13, 2019 at 8:12 am

    Written tongue in cheek, but nevertheless true.


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