Cole

Dermot Cole





The search continues for the 2,000 funded but unfilled jobs in state government.

As a candidate, Mike Dunleavy said he would cut these jobs and save $200 million without anyone noticing. It was part of his trifecta—maintain all public services, avoid all taxes and send bigger Permanent Fund Dividend checks to everybody.

He may have come up with this idea based on a right-wing publication that claimed the state had been appropriating $250 million for vacant jobs in state government, a claim denied by the Legislature’s own experts when Dunleavy was in the Senate.

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Last summer and fall Dunleavy was already thinking of what he would do after the state stopped paying for 2,000 empty jobs.

“So there’s $200 million right there that can be discussed as to how we want to use that going forward,” he told a statewide radio audience on Sept. 4.

“Do we want to use that money and hire more Troopers? Do we want to use that money and hire more prosecuting attorneys? Do we want to use that money and keep the courts open on Friday to improve our public safety situation?”

Nearly two months later, he was still counting on that cash. “We have over 2,000 funded but unfilled positions in state government,” he said on KTUU-TV. “I would look at those positions to see what positions and what funding we could move to other parts of government to reduce the size of government.”

I still don’t understand why the major news organizations in Alaska have refused to cover this part of Dunleavy’s plan to reduce the size of government. Or why he forgot to include a reduction of 2,000 jobs in his so-called “Honest Budget.”

The Honest Budget calls for 20,074 jobs statewide, which is a reduction of 342 jobs from the current fiscal year. But 268 jobs would be eliminated by privatizing the Alaska Psychiatric Institute, a transfer that could end up costing the state more money. Take out API and the job cut is miniscule.

This doesn’t include the thousands of jobs that would be cut at the University of Alaska, public schools, the ferry system and in health care. Those have never been part of the “funded but unfilled” hysteria.

After he was elected Dunleavy could have tried to save the ferry system, help schools or keep some residents of the Pioneer Homes from going broke by redirecting money from the 2,000 unfilled jobs, but he didn’t.

And no one mentioned the easy $200 million during the Dunleavy/Koch Network budget meetings, which complicates the never-ending quest.

It’s almost as if he made up the story about 2,000 empty jobs.

I am waiting for Dunleavy and Republicans in the Legislature who agreed with him to explain why they have refused to cut these jobs they claimed to have discovered during the Walker administration.

Some GOP officials and their supporters went way beyond Dunleavy in counting imaginary jobs and cash.

In early 2018, the Chugiak Eagle River Alaska Star reported on a Jan. 6 meeting at which Reps. Lora Reinbold, Cathy Tilton and Dan Saddler were asked about the secret jobs.

“Scott Bailey asked if legislators will cut unfilled positions from the budget, which would result in an estimated $300 to $400 million in savings without having to fire any actual employees,” the Star reported.

“We will do our darnedest to reduce the cost,” Saddler promised.

Less than three weeks after that meeting in Eagle River, the legislative finance division did its darnedest to demonstrate that the $300 million to $400 million slush fund did not exist. The state Legislature always provides less money than it takes to fill all the positions in state government because there is always some turnover. Some positions are kept vacant to balance the budget each year.

Dunleavy and others had mistakenly concluded that the legislative practice was always to appropriate more money than there are jobs filled.

On April 25, 2017, a Wasilla resident testified that she had learned at a “Mission Critical” meeting about the $300 million slush fund in state government created by “ghost employees.”

The right-wing group, which was started by former Rep. Lynn Gattis and others, claimed starting in 2017 that there were 3,000 funded but unfilled “ghost employees” in state government. It falsely claimed that “the state funds many more positions than it has people filling in those positions.”

“Why do we permit the executive branch to create and extend this practice of ghost employees at a rate of about $300 million to take your PFD?”

“We have this practice being replicated among all the departments of the state where we carry funded positions with no bodies in them. It is essentially a slush fund,” Mission Critical claimed.

Mission Critical was the work of United for Liberty and the Alaska Policy Forum, the latter being a group closely linked to Dunleavy.

In December, Bob Griffin, senior education research fellow at the forum, wrote a column in the Anchorage Daily News about shrinking government. Dunleavy named Griffin to the state school board in January.

“During the budget debates in early 2018, members of both the House and Senate dug deep and uncovered more than 1,500 ‘funded but unfilled’ positions, according to Rep. Cathy Tilton’s office, the total cost of which added more than $150 million to the budget,” Griffin wrote in December.

Pick your favorite number about unfilled positions—1,500, 2,000 or 3,000—and the hundreds of millions to be saved.

The Dunleavy budget has proven that all of them were wrong.

Dermot Cole can be reached at dermotmcole@gmail.com

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