Donna Arduin, named by Gov-elect Mike Dunleavy to oversee the state budget, has worked in multiple states—often for short periods of time—under Republican governors who needed a high-profile ax handler to talk about cutting social service programs, retirement benefits and other big-ticket items.
Arduin may not be in Alaska long if her track record is any guide. She’s been a GOP budget lightning rod in Michigan, New York, Florida, California and Illinois.
As to her philosophy, "I have no sympathy for people who want handouts from the government," she told the Duke University alumni magazine for a 2006 profile.
In early 2017, Dunleavy said he wanted to cut the state budget by $1.1 billion a year, but he was never able to identify items to cut. During his campaign he sometimes said he wanted to cut a few hundred million, but he refused to be specific.
It appears that Dunleavy has decided that the best way to cut the budget is to get someone else to lead the charge, an Outsider with no connections to Alaska.
Arduin doesn’t know the challenges created by Alaska’s size, the lack of roads, the large number of small communities or the expectations of residents.
She told the Anchorage Daily News that she has cut budgets in various states, but the advantage in Alaska is that it is a young state and it is easier to change things here. That’s the kind of thing an uninformed person says.
The responsibility for proposed budget cuts—in the end—will rest with the governor, not with a Lower 48 appointee unencumbered by knowledge of Alaska.
In other states, Arduin has not been shy about specifics when she sharpens the knife.
Writing in Crain’s Chicago Business, columnist Greg Hinz said that Gov. Bruce Rauner became a one-term governor in part because he hired people like Arduin in 2015. She collected $165,000 for eight months, according to various published accounts.
“Instead of stocking his administration with experts in Illinois politics, people who know us in their bones, he often hired outside bomb-throwers, like rent-an-ax consultant Donna Arduin, who worked (and often failed) for GOP governors from Florida and Kansas to California,” Hinz said.
Arduin, who completed bachelor’s degrees in economics and public policy from Duke in 1985, told that university’s alumni magazine that “I joined government to shrink it.”
In California, hired by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, she proposed big cuts in Medicaid and other programs, taking aim at the "entitlement nature of a lot of those programs. When Arnold went into the budget, it was all about spending programs on autopilot."
Responding to the Duke magazine profile, a fellow graduate said he would have more respect for Arduin’s approach if she stayed in any one state long enough to see the impact of the budget cuts.
“Instead, after marching through the state budgets for several different states, like Sherman marching to the sea, it seems she has left government to form a private firm. From a brief look at the website of Arduin, Laffer & Moore, it looks like her firm intends to profit quite handsomely from a government that governs a lot more than less,” wrote Matthew Schott.
“While I have no problem with her doing well for herself, I do have a problem with people cloaking themselves in virtuous cloth of their own making,” he said.
She left as Schwarzenegger’s budget chief after 11 months with many of her plans to shrink government unapproved, such as a proposal to cut funds for the developmentally disabled.
“She has a complete tin ear with respect to the political ramifications of particular cuts, ” University of California-Berkeley political scientist Bruce Cain told the Los Angeles Times in 2004.
The Times said, “She was perceived as a committed conservative and outsider who faced criticism for an aloof style and comparative unfamiliarity with California's complex budget process.”
Journalist Dermot Cole, who has covered Alaska politics since the 1970s, lives in Fairbanks.