Governor strikes back, in seven Pioneer Home tweets

Gov. Bill Walker shares a laugh with public employee union representative Jim Duncan. The Governor’s Office issued dire warnings last week that Pioneers Homes would have to close unless more revenue was found. Today, he took to Twitter for damage control.

Gov. Bill Walker denied that he cut the Palmer Veterans and Pioneers Home in a series of messages today on Twitter.

And then he back-tracked and said that cutting the home was the only choice he had. The entire series ended up looking more like an incoherent rant than a form of budget diplomacy.

[Read: Governor threatens to close Pioneers Homes; residents told to prepare]

In some Twitter messages, Walker tried to blame the cut on the Alaska Senate, not acknowledging that the Senate had given him unallocated cuts of 5.7 percent for the Department of Health and Social Services that he recently decided must fall on the Pioneer Homes, which happen to be a very small portion of the DHHS budget.

And then the waffling began. Walker began by saying his budget included money for the Pioneers’ Homes.

Walker neglected to say that the Senate budget also had funding for the Pioneers Homes. It just asked him to make some cuts in the DHSS budget. Walker tweeted out a photo of the budget that showed where the cuts had been made, without disclosing that he knew the cuts were parked in a particular division but that the Senate was giving him wide latitude.

Walker went on to tweet about how his father was housed at the Pioneer Home and that he’d fight to make sure “our seniors are not displaced from their homes.”

But he also tweeted out that he has no choice:


But in a memo sent out last Friday, Anthony Newman, the legislative liaison at DHSS had a slightly different version of the facts:

Copied on Newman’s memo were Commissioner Valerie Davidson and Walker functionaries throughout the administration. In other words, Newman was not sending this memo on his own — it had been approved up the chain of command. This was a Walker directive.

Is this a ham-handed version of the old Washington Monument game, where the U.S. Park Service would close the Washington Monument in response to any budget cuts, looking to pressure lawmakers into restoring the cut funding?

Senator Anna MacKinnon, co-chair of Finance, said it was a travesty for the governor to have allowed the memo to go out.

“It’s horrible. To scare senior citizens who are in Alaska homes? Who would do that? We are only partway through a process and while we want cuts, he has the greatest flexibility to make sure they are meaningful cuts,” she said.
She added that it appeared to be targeted at the most conservative area of the state.
Sen. Shelley Hughes wrote in her newsletter earlier today:

“Our seniors deserve respect and care, and it was troubling to me to learn on Friday that the administration had unnecessarily caused tremendous anxiety among seniors by informing residents of the Veterans and Pioneers Home in Palmer that closure of their facility is looming this summer.

“A $6.5 million reduction can be moved and absorbed elsewhere in the Department of Health and Social Services’ $1+ billion budget at the governor’s and his commissioner’s discretion. In fact, the DHSS Commissioner has been granted the unusual authority to move up to $25 million from one appropriation to another for situations just as this. (Other department heads typically do not have this kind of leeway.)

Hughes also pointed out that $6.5 million isn’t a final number. The budget work will continue in the House and Senate Conference Committee, if the House ever allows the budget to go for its up and down procedural vote.

“Our precious elderly should not be used as a political football in an attempt to pressure lawmakers to pass taxes. I and the Mat-Su delegation as well as other legislators are working on this issue,” Hughes wrote.

Walker is playing the same game, cutting that portion of the bloated DHHS budget that has the most public support and is likely to generate the most outrage.

Clearly, this administration is deeply committed to staving off any cuts to Alaska’s massive state operating budget, even if it means frightening senior citizens.