Dunleavy to Chamber of Commerce: Let the people decide - Must Read Alaska
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Wednesday, October 23, 2019
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Dunleavy to Chamber of Commerce: Let the people decide

Some 275 business leaders attended Gov. Michael Dunleavy’s budget presentation at the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce on Monday. The room was at capacity for the Make It Monday Forum.

They heard the professorial Dunleavy, with a rapid-fire command of facts about a budget that had, year after year, dug the state into an Alaska-sized hole with a government that tried to be all things to all people.

They heard the policy wonk Dunleavy speak for 40 minutes without notes, walking the audience through a series of charts and graphs that described the choices the state faced when he was sworn into office, and what he decided to do about it. Oil was up to $85 a barrel in October, but down to less than $55 by the end of the year, a 35 percent drop in three months. His budget, with all its amendments due in February, needed to reflect the honest reality of where revenues were actually going to be.

And they heard the — dare we say — humble Dunleavy explain that he laid out his initial budget to get a conversation going around the state. That conversation is going, he acknowledged, getting a chuckle from the audience.

“It’s been a good discussion,” he said.

If they listened carefully, the business leaders might have also heard the Dunleavy who was signaling he has the ability to compromise on spending with the Legislature — if he gets to put his constitutional amendments on the ballot so that the people can actually vote on them:

  • Should there be an income tax without a vote of the people?
  • Should there be a spending cap on government?
  • Should the Permanent Fund dividend be constitutionally protected?

If the people want to pay more than $5,000 apiece to the state government every year, then he’s fine with that, he said. If they want to donate part of their Permanent Fund dividend to state government, that’s OK, too, he said.

But as with Colorado’s TABOR amendment (taxpayer bill of rights), the people should be allowed to make such important decisions.

The banquet hall in the Dena’ina Center was respectful and attentive, in some ways a room of people getting their dose of cod liver oil — they didn’t necessarily like it, but they were going to try to not make a face.

But they were also discovering something else: This was not the governor they’d been told about by the mainstream media. This was a guy who had complete command of the budget situation, unlike his predecessor. And while they may not have liked the hard truth of the message, they could not argue with the math.

Dunleavy didn’t blame former Gov. Bill Walker, but he said that excessive spending over the past four years had drained $14 billion from the state’s reserves.

At this rate of spending, in a few short years the Permanent Fund dividend will be no more, even under SB 26, the restructuring bill that passed in 2018, he said.

He also said that Walker’s solution had been to impose new revenues in the form of income and other taxes, and to slice the Permanent Fund dividend in half. Dunleavy said that approach was not supported by voters.

Dunleavy said he came into office and worked the budget from the other direction — figuring out what revenue was available, and then providing all the government that could be provided for that amount.

After 40 minutes and seven questions from the audience, Dunleavy may have even won a few converts from what is typically a moderate Anchorage crowd. He at least earned some grudging admiration.

On Tuesday, it’s off to Glennallen, Tok, and Delta Junction for the same discussion with other Alaskans, as he leads the fiscal solution discussion far and wide across the state.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • $14 Billion spent over the last 4 years… great job by the Alaskan legislature… I don’t blame any Political party in particular, I blame all of them…

    Bring this government beast to a level of affordability, cut more, there are still many government workers in their Cubicles playing games and watching videos on their IPods and Android… yes, i’ve seen it personally, and it’s still happening to this day.

    Also, make sure to cut the managers that are having meetings about past meetings, which are focused on meetings which have yet to happen. Also, too many managers are focused on Business Intelligence, generating report after report that nobody really cares about except themselves.

    Whatever else can’t be cut, put the balance on the PFD money… I’m gonna miss a lot of the PFD money, but we need to have the bare-bones services.

  • I am from Tok, and the talk around town is that the Governor is here only for an hour and then off to Glennallen. Kind of short but I understand his time constraints. Those here that voted for him want LESS Government and they also want to keep their PFD’s. To hear his reasons for cutting the budget will fall on deaf ears for those that didn’t vote for him as there’s been an attempt to bring in school kids and educators to try to sabotage the Governor’s message. I hope that doesn’t happen, but I’ll be there to do my best to ensure Gov. Dunleavy gets his message across to those that don’t agree that the State of Alaska has to live within it’s means.

  • This brings up an old issue that should have been resolved decades ago: with the Capitol in Juneau and far removed from 90% of Alaska’s population, our governor feels like an out-of-country guest everytime he visits Anchorage, Fairbanks, the Mat-Su, Kenai, etc. MOVE THE FRICKIN CAPITOL and use PF monies to do it. Let’s have another vote and MOVE IT!

  • Johnnie Greene: We don’t need another vote to move the capital, just another vote to PAY for it. We discussed on my radio show recently the act of sabotage on a power substation in the late afternoon in 1978 as voters in Eagle River and the Mat-Valley were flocking to the polls after work. A high-powered rifle blasted into an electrical substation that killed electricity over a wide area. Bet most Alaskans never heard of it.

    • If you research Alaska History you will need to dig deep but the move was voted on and approved along with the funds several times by citizens first time in the early to mid-’50s, again in the ’60s. And you are correct as I was headed home to vote that day and heard it on the radio. We didn’t get to vote!!!

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