It’s long past time for Gov. Mike Dunleavy to put up or shut up about the future of state finances.
Having been stung by the public revolt against his budget last year, he has led his administration on a historic retreat.
Forget the bold pledges of last February, when he said expenditures would have to equal revenues and he had to be decisive. “We’re gonna fix this budget this year,” he said.
The budget has not been fixed. And he no longer wants to say anything about cutting the budget, raising taxes or deciding what he’s going to have for lunch.
What he wants instead is to talk about the need to make decisions about the budget, taxes, the Permanent Fund and everything else. With this aversion to commitment, he could use the help of Dr. Phil.
Even Dunleavy’s right-wing fans in the Alaska Policy Forum say the Dunleavy spending plan is “irresponsible and unsustainable.”
There is no time for a Dunleavy-led talkathon, seeing as how his new budget would empty all state savings accounts except the Permanent Fund by October 2021.
His “plan” is for a deficit in the next fiscal year of $170,000 an hour, with no provisions to decide what happens when the Constitutional Budget Reserve is history.
Dunleavy appears to believe that his best chance of surviving the recall is to resurrect the fantasy that he used to get elected in 2018—telling everyone what he thinks they want to hear at any given moment.
His 2018 campaign pablum was all about telling supporters he believed in budget cuts—being careful to never propose specifics—while telling general audiences that he would not cut the ferry system, public schools, the University of Alaska, the Pioneer Homes or anything else.
As a senator, he specialized in unworkable budget ideas and avoided specifics, except to always say he had a plan that required no taxes.
The difference now is that Dunleavy holds the most powerful political office in Alaska. He is acting as if the buck stops somewhere else.
A year ago, Dunleavy said that the only solution for Alaska was to cut almost every state service and raise not a dollar more in taxes. The Legislature refused to go along and there was public opposition unlike anything in the state’s history.
We have entered the distraction phase of his administration, which went on clear display last week during his appearance at Commonwealth North in Anchorage.
“We went in with a flat budget this year, part of it was not to be a distraction,” he told the group.
“Part of it was to allow the Legislature to come up with I hope are some good ideas to help solve this issue together. So we want to work with the Legislature, we want to work with all Alaskans.”
No governor in Alaska history has ever before put forward a proposed budget and claimed that the goal of the document was to avoid becoming a distraction. That’s not how our government works. It will not work that way.
The Dunleavy apologists claiming it’s now up to the Legislature to lead the way are laughable. The factions in the Legislature guarantee dissension on complex multi-faceted problems that require a three-quarter majority to override a veto.
The budget represents the policy choices of the governor. Dunleavy’s choice is to ignore the most serious threat to Alaska’s economic future, taking himself out of the kitchen because it has become a little too warm.
The 90-day session begins Tuesday. If it goes to 120 days, the session will end in May. Don’t bet on hearing the Kumbaya chorus anytime soon.
Only a fool would believe that the state’s budget problems will be solved with a miracle by May.
“We have to decide this year what role the Permanent Fund plays in it going forward and how big of a government we want,” Dunleavy said last week.
Sure. And the Dunleavy plan for this and all other budget questions? A detailed proposal should be in front of the Legislature right now, but there is nothing Dunleavy will stand behind.
Maybe the former temporary budget director took the plan with her to Florida.
“What are your thoughts on the $3,000 Permanent Fund?” Dunleavy was asked at the Anchorage meeting.
“Really? Seriously?” said Dunleavy.
“We have to decide, like I mentioned, what the Permanent Fund is gonna play in this fix. But also, what do people want to do with the PFD?”
“We’re gonna have to decide, it’s a difficult one, but I’m willing to roll up my sleeves and work with the Legislature in coming up with a solution that meets the needs of all Alaskans.”
The governor has decided to duck. What this is really about is the recall.
“The whole recall effort is certainly, it’s a distraction, but we’ve been pretty focused on carrying out our duties as governor and moving Alaska forward,” Dunleavy told KTVA in Anchorage.
The Dunleavy support group filed a document in court saying it would be harmed “if the governor is distracted from implementing the agenda” that led people to vote for him.
By calling for talk, not action, the governor is trying to distract Alaskans from his decision to shift blame for the budget crisis to the Legislature, an institution incapable of doing the work required of the governor.
Dermot Cole can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org