By DAN FAGAN
Apologists for feckless Gov. Mike Dunleavy often blame the Alaska legislature for the governor’s inability to stand up to Alaska’s big government types.
They argue it’s unfair to compare Dunleavy to effective governors like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. They say the Florida governor, unlike Dunleavy, has a cooperative private sector-oriented legislature.
That’s true. Rep. Kelly Merrick of Eagle River essentially ran a con game two years ago on voters running as a conservative for her House seat. She then joined with the Democrats.
Republican Rep. Louise Stutes and Rep. Sara Rasmussen abandoning the GOP caucus along with Merrick’s defection all but guaranteed big government interests would face no opposition from the Legislature this past session.
Gov. Dunleavy fans, the few that there are, said he had no other choice but to recently sign the largest budget in state history coming in at $8.63 billion. That’s a 38% increase over last year’s budget according to the Alaska Policy Forum.
This year’s budget is a stark contrast to the one originally proposed by Dunleavy. The governor promised to use his veto pen to cut $130 million from the oversized university budget but after being threatened with a recall, he gave the money back.
Dunleavy has at the very least been open and honest about his drastic shift from budget hawk to lackey willing to go along to get along with special interests.
“It was made clear by a number of groups of Alaskans that they didn’t necessarily care for large reductions. It’s also been made clear to me by Alaskans that they’re not necessarily sad about taxes,” Dunleavy told the left-leaning Anchorage Daily News last summer.
Dunleavy recently won praise for signing the state’s unprecedented and massive budget and his obvious political transformation from Senate Minority Leader and Democrat Tom Begich.
“It was this governor who attempted to dismantle the university system, cut public education funding, and put the state’s fiscal burden on local taxpayers in his first budget,” Begich told Alaska Public Media. “We are encouraged now by a budget that rejects that vision.”
Alaska already spends four times as much on state government per capita as Florida. With this year’s monstrosity of a budget, the disparity will only increase.
It is true DeSantis has help from his legislature in standing up to his state’s insatiable big government advocates.
But Dunleavy has something DeSantis does not. It takes three quarters of the Alaska Legislature to override the governor’s line-item veto. Only one other state, Arizona, has such a powerful veto pen. Florida legislators can override a governor’s line-item veto with only a two-thirds vote.
So, Alaska, a red state, where Donald Trump beat Joe Biden by 10 percentage points in 2020, only needs to elect one out of every four legislators with the courage to stand up to special interests. One in four willing to stand up to union bosses, non-profit cabal types, lobbyists, and corporations depending on government bloat and largess.
That’s an awfully low bar and yet the special interests continue to have a never-ending stranglehold on Alaska’s state government because Dunleavy, and his predecessors for that matter, refuse to pick up that mighty line-item veto sword to any significant degree.
In fairness to Dunleavy, he didn’t create this problem. He inherited this mess after former half-term governor and reality TV star Sarah Palin signed the massive tax bill ACES.
The job killing tax scheme transferred so much cash out of the private sector and into government, it is directly responsible for the Jabba the Hutt sized state budget we have today.
Once ACES passed, the impact was immediate. Drilling activity dropped from 10 rigs active in Alaska in 2006, to eight rigs in 2007, and six rigs in 2010.
This happened at a time when the price of oil was mostly far north of $100 a barrel. There was talk of having to shut down the pipeline if the decline in oil drilling became much more dramatic. This also happened at a time when other oil plays in North America were thriving.
We’ll never know how much new investment Sarah Palin’s ACES cost the state of Alaska. We do know this: Palin’s ACES opened the door to the obesity state government suffers from even today.
Palin is also responsible for the election of Bill Walker as governor in 2014. Walker ran as a conservative, even though he has long been a major adversary of Alaska’s largest taxpayer, the oil and gas industry.
Walker barely beat out incumbent Republican Gov. Sean Parnell by two percentage points after Palin, a darling of low-information and celebrity-fawning conservatives, endorsed him.
“Walker and Palin are a part of a splinter group of people who claim to be conservative but have the same contempt for oil as Democrats,” wrote Juneau Republican activist Murray Walsh in May.
Walker’s contribution to maintaining Alaska’s government bloat came with his ignoring of the statutory formula for the Permanent Fund. This allowed politicians the opportunity to raid the fund’s earnings reserve account to make special interests happy. Even if it meant leaving the citizenry with scraps.
The Walker move has cost an Alaska family of four more than $50,000 in lost dividend money.
The problem with Alaska’s government weight problem is it smothers out new private sector investment.
Companies are less likely to invest new capital in the state when Alaska politicians can’t say no to special interests.
Since only the private sector — not the government — creates wealth, corporate executives know one day Alaska politicians will look to them to pick up the tab.
Palin, Walker, and Dunleavy make a great team in assuring government remains fat, happy, and in full control.
Dan Fagan hosts a morning drive radio show weekdays from 5:30 to 9 a.m. on Newsradio 650, KENI.
Disclaimer: Political analysis offered by the host of the Dan Fagan Radio Show is not the result of a rebuffing for unrequited love.