Dan Fagan: They claim they slashed budget by 40%, but here’s what they didn’t tell you



If you live in Republican Sen. Josh Revak’s district, you likely received a flyer from him during his last campaign cycle boasting about the deep cuts he and his fellow legislators have made to the state budget in recent years. 

Revak and others claimed to cut the budget a whopping 40% since 2013.

Former Senate President Cathy Giessel famously used the 40% budget cut figure to justify her raiding of the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve Account to keep special interests happy. Giessel also used the 40% number as evidence there’s no more room for cutting in state government. 

Readers will remember Giessel opposed most of Mike Dunleavy’s first year budget cuts back when the governor was a budget hawk. He no longer is.   

The media and liberal bloggers were more than happy to play along and repeat the 40% budget cut claim. 

But a report released Monday by the think tank Alaska Policy Forum shows the 40% budget cut figure is nothing more than a myth. 

“Alaska Policy Forum’s examination of total state spending and the cost of state government over the years finds that politicians have used smoke and mirrors to mislead Alaskans concerning budget cuts and spending,” the report reads. 

The AFP report found the 40 percent figure compares the 2013 budget to the 2020 budget. The 2013 budget had a much larger capital budget than the 2020 budget. Capital budgets are typically considered low hanging fruit in the world of budget cutting. They generally pay for projects and infrastructure. 

It is the operating and supplemental budgets that are close to impossible to cut. Cutting operating budgets means fewer state employees. Public employee union bosses don’t like that one bit. 

“While Alaska has made strides to reduce state spending by cutting the capital budget, the size and expense of state government have changed very little,” the APF report reads. 

The AFP reports the 2013 budget compared to current Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s most recent budget represents only an 18.8% reduction.

AFP Executive Director Bethany Marcum says when you factor in the amount of money it takes to run the state every year, the budget reduction is only 8.8% compared to 2013.   

You might be surprised to know the 8.8% in the reduction in the cost of state government from 2013 to 2020 did not come at the hands of the current occupant of the governor’s mansion. 

In fact, Dunleavy has ever so slightly increased the cost of state government since elected even though he ran as a budget cutting governor. 

If you were to blame anyone for the current morbid obesity of Alaska’s state government, it would have to be the queen of conservatives, Sarah Palin, and former Gov. Sean Parnell. 

Palin gave us the largest tax increase in Alaska’s history in ACES, the “progressive” oil tax system. She then quit, which gave Parnell the opportunity to take the tidal wave of cash pouring into state coffers and spend, spend, spend. 

Parnell spent close to a total of $7 billion on his capital budgets. The spending brought in tens of billions of federal matching dollars. Anyone care to offer a guess of what we got for those tens of billions in capital expenditures? My guess is much of it went toward studies. Or is there a slew of newly constructed roads and bridges I’m unaware of? 

Parnell’s third budget was $3 billion larger than his first. 

The spending during the Parnell years was so out of control he approved a plan to fly rural Alaskans into Anchorage for free if they promised to attend the then declining and sparsely attended Great Alaska Shootout basketball tournament.

The word “no” was not often heard in Juneau after ACES passed and the dollars flowed. 

The Alaska Policy Forum report proves little has changed when it comes to politicians standing up to the Juneau Swamp and doing something about the state’s Jabba-the-Hutt-sized government. 

Now when politicians claim they’ve reduced government by 40% and then say there’s nothing more to cut, you know the rest of the story. 

Dan Fagan hosts the number one rated morning drive radio show on Newsradio 650 KENI. 


  1. Just as I thought, smoke and mirrors. Politicians don’t do the hard thing, they do the easy thing. The governor and the republicans have dropped the budget ball, they have allowed the democrats with a few RINO’s to make Juneau a political joke. I say fire everyone of them, let’s start over.

  2. Dan, I agree with your “smoke and mirrors” assessment. They spent “40%” less than they WANTED to spend – that’s not a cut, it was an increase, and a common public relations dodge. I really object to your characterization of Republican Governors as out-of-control spenders, particularly Mike Dunleavy – the tall Man is still a budget hawk, but he is also a realist who understands how legislatures work… – far more compromise than any of us would like to see. But Mike knows that even though he will bear some of the blame, it is the legislature, not the governor, who has the power of the purse – if he thinks that what they send him is the best he is going to get, he will sign it, or veto it if he thinks he can get them to do better. That is called pragmatism (not racism, unionism, or abandoning principles). If you must attack, go after the public sector unions, and their legislative stooges. Go after ineffective and/or unnecessary regulation and the regulators that write and administer them. Tell us where the cuts should come from and where government waste exists (it still does) and what programs should be eliminated and what the effects of that will be. Give us a vision for what Alaska should look like and how to get there. The conservative vision is a winner with voters if it isn’t sabotaged by miserably unintelligent media fools. Your incessant whining about convenient but erroneous targets with no apparent purpose to your hate is worse than useless. How does anyone subject themselves to your fantasies during their morning commute? They must be asleep at the wheel – thinking people reject such crap. Dan, your ad hominem stinks – it makes you look like the slime you accuse others of being. Stop blaming, and you and the APF point us to how we can accomplish a balanced budget and a statutory PFD without the personal attacks – especially against people we should be supporting – just stop it. You are generating phony outrage against good people, that will have the end result of leftists in control. Judging by the people you attack and how, I believe you are a phony conservative – a communist hiding behind a false veneer of smug self-righteousness… Suzanne and readers, my apologies for the length of this rant, but someone needs to tell it like it is. If you’re going to let Dan Fagan continue to write feature articles, they need to be the complete story – not some fantasy hit piece – MRAK is better than this.

  3. Dan, dan, Dan, surely you know that nothing can be done without a study. You got the environmentalist with their hands out always, you have the special interest groups with their hands out, you have the local native corporations with their hands out and on and on and on. So the way politics works as I’m sure you’re aware of but so readily criticize, is after all the palms are greased, maybe and just that’s a big maybe things can happen. That’s the way the world works these days. Now it comes as no surprise that Cathy, Bryce edgmons partner in crime got caught with her hand in the cookie jar. That’s a lesson that she should have learned sooner rather than later. Another one she should have learned is when you make a deal with the devil AKA Edgmon, you’re likely to get burned. He and his wife are pretty much untouchable in the Dillingham area since I said on all those boards. If Dillingham and the surrounding villages could ever get their stuff together and realize that he’s hand feeding them just enough to stay above the starvation level, if they could see what he’s doing they would surely vote him out. He claims to be a native but he’s whiter than I am. I am partially native, but that Viking blood in him is strong. But as a two-faced politician, he uses and twists what he has. If you want a fair PFD and a balanced budget, you’ve got to cut the cancer out of the legislature. And you’ve got to replace them with people who are for the people instead of being in the pockets of the special interest groups.

  4. While the people of the State of Alaska remain dependent, unaware that dependency isn’t making their future anymore easier, we’re actually digging ourselves a deeper pit to fall into it.

    This where I began cutting Governor Dunleavy a little slack not being as conservative as he campaigned. He is facing the mistakes the predessors made, increasing Alaskans’ greed and dependency.

    If Alaskans were more like Floridians, I believe Dunleavy would be more like DeSantos. It be easy for a conservative to be conservative if the state’s people were already conservative. It would be the popular choice.

    So the best thing for Dunleavy and all future governors after he terms out is take Alaskans down the road walking baby steps toward independence, self sufficiency and efficiency. In Feb-August 2019 Alaska showed they aren’t ready for Gov. Dunleavy’s long strides.

    Alaskans are taking so long to get there, and the future shows we won’t have much left in savings by the time we are independent. And we won’t have anyone else to blame but ourselves.

  5. Dan, Exactly right, the cuts were made entirely by not investing in infrastructure! The Operating Budget has been treated as a sacred cow and allowed to wander freely. I submit that Education is one area where cuts could be made. I recently looked over a newsletter from a rural school district, it boasted that some 70 young people had graduated district wide in the previous year. Also included was a paragraph regarding their budget. Seems some 65 million is expended per year to operate this school system. If a school was a business it’s product is a Graduate. This school system spent 865 K producing a graduate in the previous school year. I know sounds simplistic, but the argument speaks for it’s self. Surely we can provide better for less.

  6. Dan Fagan is nuts when it comes to Sarah Palin . Sean Parnell was such a disaster that Sarah Palin endorsed his opponent .

  7. Using 2013 as a starting point is disingenuous since it was the high water mark when it comes to state spending. We should be looking back at historical spending levels and see where we compare. Saying we cut spending levels from the bonanza years when we had more money than sense is just as nonsensical as the current trend of spending money we don’t have because we have no sense. We are currently spending about twice what we did in 2005, before the outlandish spending spree started. If we want to right size government and cut spending we must realize that we are overspending in historical terms by a factor of multitudes.

  8. I have suspected it was hogwash and Alaska Policy Forum has only proven that. Have we ever, in so many years, heard a single mention anywhere, in the news, from our elected representation, of any reduction in any department staffing? Has their been a study in the size of our government departments and services? Even during Covid, while the private sector was decimated, small businesses crushed, unemployment skyrocketing – were any state divisions or departments enduring any loss? Any reduction? Many, if not most, worked from home, enjoyed regular pay checks, and endured little struggle. A number of state offices are still closed! Where are all those employees? There have been no cuts, only reduction in spending for projects which actually are what help the private sector. Then the truth is simply ‘omitted’ from us, the citizens, which essentially is lying.

  9. Dear Rich Thorne: I believe that the State of Alaska budget of 1986 is where we should aim. We should get there in two weeks. If pieces fall by the wayside think of it as our natural growth curve. Just adopt the 1986 budget and interim budget. No hard feelings. It is what we can and should do. Don’t overthink it. Just adopt it.

  10. I am shocked…shocked at his revelation. Our elected ‘conservative’ governors were no more fiscally responsible than the turncoat RINOs in the current legislature. Shocking.

  11. Dear Greg Forkner: You have a point there regarding Edgmon of Dillingham.

    The only time the word “no” was uttered recently in the southern idyll of Juneau was Edgmon firmly saying “no” to the needs of the least developed least available economic opportunities in this giant vassal “state” owned by foreign corporations, BLM, US Park Service, and US Forest service.

    I don’t think Alaska has a goal of “being a state”. Alaska’s goal “is being on welfare.” That’s unfortunately, “it”. That is the example set for the children who are spanked for disrespecting their “elders.” In order to change things we must change things like the location of government to an accessible area and at least give the lobbyests a run for our money. Then all different faces in the Legislature who will execute our will. What is our will, btw?

  12. We need is a Comprehensive Review, Re-assessment and Reduction of all State of Alaska Departments, number of Employees, Desks, Chairs & Computer Terminals, & Office Buildings, All Over the State required to host this Leviathan we call Our State Government! There is no doubt in my mind that the State of Alaska could make a substantial reduction in the overall number of Employees, Office Buildings, Desks, & Computers and still provide for all the essential services we need to keep Alaska up and running!

  13. WAKE UP Alaskans! Wake up from your playground experiences and television programmed entrancement and speak to five adults today about how to fix Alaska’s organic problems.

  14. When you move the citadel of togetherness to Anchorage for care and keeping in keeping with our Alaskan tradition just leave our archives there in Juneau for the rats to cavort with. We won’t need thum any longer just like we did with Unalaska, Unga, Kodiak, Sitka and now Juneau. Then send thum to U of WA under the “care” of some hyper quiscient fellow. All we need is the ADN recently purchased by CA interests, or China or whoever gives a leap of faith. Have another fun-filled, playful day. As you were!

    • Either alternate the legislative session one year each in South Central and Fairbanks, contracting for housing and meals to eliminate per diem, or contract the hotels at Denali for the session for legislators and limited aids only (NO LOBBYISTS), again eliminating per diem. That gives the road system equal access to citizens as the lobbyists without favoring a geographic area. With electronic communication today there is no reason for them to isolate themselves in Juneau for beer pong and leg wrestling.

  15. The key is scale back the functions of government, not just cut the budget. Stop insisting the government do X or Y for people. A lot of the waste in public spending comes from excessive number of laws and mandates that are often the result of misguided efforts at budget oversight. Report on this, justify that… There is also a perverse logic when cuts occur: the most efficient and effective programs get cut first while the most wasteful ones stay fat and happy. Why? Because the cuts are made on the basis of political interests rather than effectiveness. Leading bureaucrats and officials use the budget cutting process to consolidate their own power. Cost-benefit analyses are non-existent.

  16. Gee whiz thanks for pointing out all the Republican leadership and what actually happened. Keep voting party lines and this is what you get.

  17. Thanks for the endorsements folks… When you delegate budget cutting to the department heads, they delegate… down to the folks who say to their workers, “we can’t cut jobs, we’ll lose power and influence; we won’t cut our friends’ jobs.” Part of this is the way we pay bureaucrats to hire underlings in order to get a step increase in pay – this practice must stop and be replaced with a merit-based pay system to encourage efficiency and productivity. As it is, we pay them more to do less – I’m NOT talking about the guy who is actually doing the work, as they are usually good folks trying to do good work. So what happens? For instance: When you try to cut DOT funds, they quit filling potholes; then wait for the public to scream about the damage to their vehicles and discomfort. Eventually congress hears and asks DOT, “Why can’t you fill the potholes?” DOT says we need more money. Congress cuts them a check. No one loses job, everyone happy except the budget guys and the taxpayer/PFD recipient. No labor union is going to allow us to fundamentally change the way public-sector employees are paid – so we must change labor laws and/or bust the public-sector unions. It will be a war, and hard fought, but fight it we must. There were MANY warnings during the boom years about building too much government – we failed to heed most of them and now we are paying a big price. First step: elect a congress willing to be real about budget cutting and preserving the PFD. Step 2: dump phony Republicans like Dan Fagan who try to blame the wrong source for our troubles. Step 3: pass Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s Constitutional Amendments, loudly noting that the 50/50 split will provide significantly lower PFD’s than Statutory, but far more than anything this legislature is proposing, and will do a better job of budget management while eliminating the rancor over the annual PFD payment. Force the government to downsize – not just stop filling potholes.

  18. One idea to reduce excessive government spending is to get rid of collective bargaining for state employees. That would be difficult, but other states have done it.
    A baby step we can take, is for the legislature to tweak the “Public Employment Relations Act” (PERA) of 1972 (Alaska Statute 23.40.070). The tweak would be to allow a city (like Fairbanks) to get out from under PERA, if the city council voted to do so (after an existing 3 year union contract has expired.). Right now the law reads that once a city is in PERA, they are stuck there forever – like flypaper.

  19. In 2018 at our local community council, Natasha Von Imhof, our state senator, personally appeared to give an update. When taking questions, the Senator addressed a process used to set dollars for the State Budget.

    Von Imhof, at the time Vice Chair of Senate Finance, in general terms explained that individual state departments are polled and asked how many employees will need to be funded for the coming fiscal year. The number of employees are then assigned an approximate dollar cost for the budget. Each department provides the number of employees, including the number of new projected employees for the new year. When asked if these department projections are challenged, her answer was “No, that’s what they say they need.” Who is checking past budgets vs hiring in past years to see if projected hiring does take place? Who is responsible to maintain a check, if not Senate Finance?

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