House Finance came ready to have a conversation - Must Read Alaska
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Wednesday, October 20, 2021
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House Finance came ready to have a conversation

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After the theatrics in Senate Finance Committee earlier on Monday, when some senators took the opportunity to lecture and attack Office of Management and Budget Director Donna Arduin, the OMB director might have layered on some extra armor for her first meeting with House Finance Committee.

After all, the House is closer to the people and passions can run high.

But extra armor wasn’t necessary. The House Finance Committee, meeting for the first time to take up the matter of the operating  budget, displayed a completely different tone: It was one of respect and reflection, without adversarial baiting of the witnesses.

As with Senate Finance, Arduin,  Budget Director Lacey Sanders, and Policy Director Mike Barnhill sat before the committee to give an overview of the proposed $4.6 billion budget, which is $1.6 billion less than the Gov. Bill Walker proposed budget.

Members of the committee asked questions, sought clarification, and occasionally put points on the record that they want the administration to ponder.

Co-chair Neal Foster, who represents Nome and other parts of District 39, wanted to make sure Arduin knew why the Power Cost Equalization program came into being in the first place: Other areas of the state had state funding for dams, such as the Four Dam Pool, Dorothy Lake, and Bradley Lake.

Foster said he supports those programs because they’ve been good for the economy of the Railbelt and Southeast Alaska.

Foster put it on record that rural Alaska has the Power Cost Equalization program to keep things fair. Taking away that designated fund and putting it back into the general fund might force rural areas to compete for those funds with every other need the state has, he explained. His district, of course, would be greatly impacted, in that scenario.

But neither Foster nor any other member of the House Finance Committee showboated for the camera. They made their points with facts.

Rep. Andy Josephson earnestly asked how the State can create for predictability in budgeting if it’s still completely wedded to oil taxes. But he asked his question without badgering.

Rep. Bart LeBon added the importance of remembering that the University of Alaska Fairbanks budget is larger because the campus provides administrative services to the rest of the system.

And Rep. Tammie Wilson asked whether the budget writers had considered the higher per-student cost of education in rural Alaska, compared with urban Alaska, when cutting the base student allocation across the board.

But the questions were respectful and the comments made by legislators showed observers how a budget hearing can be conducted, even while the multiple participants had deep concerns.


Also today, the mayor and city manager of Juneau published a letter to the editor in the Juneau Empire, advising citizens of the community to keep their focus on the problem, and not attack individuals.

Without naming Arduin or others, Mayor Beth Weldon and Manager Rorie Watt wrote that some of the posts they’ve seen on social media have been “troubling and aggressive, and we appeal to your better senses. Let’s be the good capital city that we work so hard to be. Democracies are about the debate and consideration of ideas. Take faith that the best ideas will prevail, and channel your energy into explaining and defending those ideas.”

The letter continued: “Let’s be hard on the problems not on the people. Your participation in the public process is essential to the good health of our democratic process. We have a long way to go before the state’s budget is finalized.”


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Written by

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

  • Sounds like they acted like adults, doing their job, that they volunteered for, and ran a campaign to get. It’s sad that I feel the need to congratulate them for that.

  • Steve-O: I thought exactly the same thing. Isn’t that what we say to little kids when we are teaching them manners? “Thank you, Johnny, for using your manners and your ‘inside’ voice”. Finally, they are acting like adults and having a two-way conversation. And thanks to Beth too. Unreal that she has to remind the citizens to cool it, but thats what it has become. Everyone just boils over and reacts wildly to everything. Settle down folks. Stop and think for a bit. Develop a rational thought and a plan. Right now we are at a starting point. Now we can have a conversation.

  • I realize that the proposed cuts to K12 funding and the University have drawn most of the attention so far, but my read of the budget documents indicates that the Governor has proposed VERY FEW cuts to the traditional Juneau State bureaucracy. Excluding concerns over the ferry system, K12 and the University, Juneau’s Deep State is doing just fine, thank you. That may explain the Mayor’s and Manger’s “cool it” message to Juneauites.

  • What a Hallmark moment, something changed?
    Lobbyists close up shop and go away?
    This crowd is nice because they know the fix is in.
    They can afford to be nice because they know they’re holding all the cards.
    And productive Alaskans will soon be holding their tax bills.

  • The house knows we don’t have a deficit problem we have a (PFD) distribution problem.

    I’d rather my benjamins be used to fund public services in Alaska than have them taxed by the federal government so they can have overreach powers on everything I do.

    • With respect, DB, we have no idea what public services should cost versus what public services do cost.
      Nobody’s talking about an audit of state finances and management practices to get the facts.
      Instead we’re being guided into conversations about how (fill in the blank) will cease to exist if it doesn’t get a lot more money.

      • I don’t stop paying my bills and then do it an audit to decide the best way to spend my benjamins.
        Fund the gunderment and add extra funds in to perform an audit.

        • Makes sense…
          Right, who needs an audit when the fix is in, money’s no object, and facts don’t matter.
          Only problem is what happens when the money’s gone, other peoples’, your own, and your monster’s hungry again…
          Don’t mean a thing… fund the government…
          Truly the meaning of life, why we exist…
          To fund the government…

  • Send that letter to the mayor of Valdez.

  • I’ve lived all over the State and in many of the communities that will be effected by the change in local taxes (fish and pipeline). I find it interesting that pretty much all of them provide their own public safety services (Valdez, Kodiak, Unalaska, Sitka, Cordova, Dillingham). They don’t rely on the Troopers to solve their public safety issues. Yet the majority of the Matsu valley is served by the State of Alaska. I believe that if those funds are to be used to help the State as a whole, then the State should be providing the public safety services (Troopers) to those communities. An option would be to remove those services from the majority of the valley and let those residents pay for those services themselves. That would save the State significant funds and allow the thin ranks of the Troopers on statewide issues.

    • In other words:
      Valdez, Kodiak, Unalaska, Sitka, Cordova, Dillingham are members of the Alaska Municipal League which has $617,989,282.26 of taxpayers’ money rat-holed out of taxpayers’ reach;
      Kodiak pays a state lobbyist $45K per year;
      Unalaska pays a state lobbyist $71K per year;
      Sitka pays a state lobbyist $25K per year;
      Cordova pays a state lobbyist $48K per year;
      Dillingham pays a state lobbyist $30K per year;
      but Valley residents should find some other means of protecting themselves so Troopers can be moved to these poverty-stricken communities.

      • When you say taxpayers’ money here the money is from a tax on commercial fish that is essentially paid by the fisherman (in reduced price for the raw fish). That is certainly nothing like most taxes. And Mike’s comment did not suggest that those freed-up Troopers should be “moved to these poverty-stricken communities.”

  • Thanks Bill. You are correct. What I’m saying is that the Mat-Su valley needs to be paying for their own police services. It could be through a contract with the Troopers to pay for services, if that is what they want. I don’t think the residents in the Mat-Su should be getting free public safety services on the backs of the remainder of the state residents.

    Morrigan. What does the mat-Su spend on lobbyists?

  • Matanuska Susitna Borough School District, 5K/month…
    Matanuska Susitna Borough, 6.7K/month…
    What are the facts about free public safety services on the backs of the remainder of the state residents…

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