Dear Neighbors & Friends,
I’m calling this the Budget Whiplash Edition. So many important items in our state operating budget have been proposed to be cut, then funded by the legislature, then vetoed by the Governor, then re-funded by the legislature, only to be vetoed again. Who can keep up? This is no way to run a state. It’s not ok that the budget is being signed in late August, again with major implications and lasting changes for Alaskans. While it’s not all bad news, there are reasons to be concerned.
HB 2001 – Operating Budget
Today at 2 pm Governor Dunleavy signed HB 2001 with restoration of critical funding of education, Senior Benefits, and Alaska Legal Services Corporation. This is the good news. The public deserves all the credit for forcing a different decision when it came to funding these essential services. Thousands and thousands of Alaskans spoke up in support of these funds and a lower PFD. What happened today is what should happen in government – the elected leader listened to the people they represent. I do give credit to Governor Dunleavy for listening to the demands, even if we think this shouldn’t have ever happened in the first place.
The funds that were restored are so important for the future of our state, from early learning to legal services for domestic violence victims these are items that Alaskans really need and want. It’s been hard with all of the back and forth to keep track, but here are some of the restored items:
Senior Benefits Program
University of Alaska (3 year step down plan)
Early Learning Programs – Head Start, Early Childhood Grants, Best Beginnings, and Parents as Teachers
Alaska Legal Services Corporation (domestic violence services)
Online with Libraries and Live Homework Help (these support a lot of youth in our area)
Alaska State Council on the Arts
Human Services Matching Grant (supports AWAIC, Bean’s Café, and Brother Francis Shelter)
See more on items restored in the budget here: https://omb.alaska.gov/ombfiles/20_budget/PDFs/HB2001_Press_Restored_Items_of_Interest_8-19-19.pdf
Now the bad news. Medicaid takes a big hit, and this is in the midst of a lawsuit about sudden changes to Medicaid. If you missed the news about this lawsuit, please go here: https://www.adn.com/politics/2019/07/18/alaska-hospital-group-sues-dunleavy-administration-over-medicaid-cuts/. We are already struggling with a very fragile health care system in our state and lack of providers. This will only make things worse and could result in fewer providers over all. We are working hard to reduce healthcare costs and are making significant progress, but these damaging cuts could upend that work. Coverage for adult dental is eliminated meaning that the state will pay for the more costly emergency room service. How does that make sense?
Also impacting health care is the veto of behavioral health grants for addiction treatment at a time when we are really struggling to overcome the opioid crisis and get people services. This won’t help improve the situation. Adult Public Assistance takes a hit too.
The Ocean Ranger Program, entirely paid for by cruise ship passengers and very needed to prevent pollution in Alaska waters was cut. This, even after Carnival was fined $20 million this summer for illegal dumping in SE waters. Decisions like this one make it hard to believe that corporate interests aren’t being put before what’s best for Alaskans.
Public broadcasting takes a big hit. This is bad news for everyone, but rural communities will be hit harder because the public radio is often the only news coming into the community.
To see a list of vetoes, please go here: https://omb.alaska.gov/ombfiles/20_budget/PDFs/HB2001_Press_Vetoed_Items_of_Interest_8-19-19.pdf
SB 2002 – Capital Budget
Representative Tarr explaining the importance of reversing the sweep
Alaskans were on pins and needles waiting for the capital budget to be signed. Finally, in late July we had a capital budget. I do want to take a quick minute to correct a statement that was brought to my attention. The governor commented:
"The action by the Legislature on the capital budget represents significant progress in moving Alaska forward. Programs like the Alaska Performance Scholarship and PCE – all items I included in my original budget but were not properly funded by the legislature – are finally funded and qualified Alaskans can expect to take part in these programs."
I want to make it clear that programs like the Alaska Performance Scholarship and PCE were defunded by the governor. He decided to go against the normal accounting procedure that funds these critical programs. The legislature then had to come together and “reverse sweep” these funds. Again, the legislature did not initiate defunding these programs. Regardless, I am thankful that 12,000 Alaska Performance Scholars are getting the funds they worked so hard for, 80,000 rural residents are receiving equalization that was promised, and our WWAMI students have an affordable means to go to medical school.
I also want to highlight that the capital budget gives Alaska access to nearly $1 billion in federal funds, which could have been lost due to delay. Our congressional delegation has worked hard to ensure Alaska receives a substantial match from the federal government. These dollars are absolutely essential in our construction industry and at one point the Associated General Contractors stated 15,000 jobs were at stake. There’s been so much rhetoric about government spending all being bad, but based on the response I think Alaskans fully understood that these funds were needed in our economy.
UPCOMING COMMUNITY EVENTS
The Alaska State Fair starts this Thursday! Find out all the details on the daily schedule here: https://www.alaskastatefair.org/site/
A favorite around here are the Farm Exhibits. Get the details on the competitions and when you can see the prize winning cabbages here: https://www.alaskastatefair.org/site/daily-schedule/farm-exhibit-highlights/
If concerts are what you’re up for here is the list of shows for the fair this year: https://www.alaskastatefair.org/site/concerts/
P.S. Community council meetings start in September. Hope to see you at an upcoming meeting!