Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson on Tuesday vetoed almost all of the Anchorage Assembly’s changes to his proposed $550 million city budget.
The Assembly unanimously approved the city’s 2022 operating budget last week after making more than a dozen changes to it. Bronson had proposed cutting $7.4 million from the budget, and the Assembly’s changes restored funding to many of the cuts, including for the Mobile Crisis Team, the School Resource Officer program in the school district, grants for prevention of child abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence and funding for early childhood education, among other changes.
Bronson on Tuesday reversed many of those changes. The vetoes will keep next year’s budget in line with his administration’s priorities of “public safety, an economically prosperous and business-friendly community, compassionately resolving the homelessness crises, minimizing service impacts to the public while seeking savings, re-organizing for more efficient and effective government, and aligning costs to better represent cost causer/cost payer,” Bronson said in a statement.
The vetoes also will put the city’s budget under the tax cap by $110,000, according to the mayor’s office.
The Assembly can vote to override Bronson’s vetoes with a supermajority of eight votes. Assembly leadership said a meeting would be scheduled to consider overriding the vetoes.
Assembly member Forrest Dunbar, a sponsor of the Assembly’s budget changes, said that while he does not know whether members will vote to override the vetoes, most of the budget changes the Assembly made last week passed with eight or more votes.
“The amended budget passed unanimously, which is a very rare occurrence,” Dunbar said. “Bronson had the opportunity here to show some unity and work with the Assembly, but instead, he protected his increased number of middle managers and political appointees and reversed all of the public safety investments that the Assembly tried to make.”
Assembly members and the Bronson administration clashed several times during the amendment process last week, including over a proposal from Dunbar and member Austin Quinn-Davidson to cut a management position and a political appointee position in the mayor’s office. The Assembly ultimately compromised after the Bronson administration fought to keep the positions.
Changes under the mayor’s vetoes include:
• Keeping $1 million in funding for health department staff from the alcohol tax budget. The Assembly had moved it to the health department budget.
• The Assembly had restored full funding to the Mayor’s Community Grants program. Bronson reversed that in order to keep the budget under the tax cap, according to the veto.
• Bronson vetoed $1.2 million in funding for the School Resource Officers program in the Anchorage School District. He wants the school district to reimburse the city for the program, rather than have the city pay for the police officers. The Assembly had reinstated city funding for the program for five months, through the end of the school year.
• The mayor vetoed the Assembly’s restoration of more than $1.5 million in funding to the fire department’s Mobile Crisis Team. Bronson wants the funding cut in half and moved to the police department because the police have a similar program. The Assembly wants to keep the program fully funded and in the fire department. (The Mobile Crisis Team at the fire department sends a mental health clinician with a paramedic to respond to behavioral health calls.)
• The mayor vetoed the Assembly’s decrease of alcohol tax funds for a homeless shelter, day center and treatment center, citing an immediate need for the homeless population.
• Bronson vetoed several other items in the city budget, including the Assembly’s increase of alcohol tax funds for grants to prevent child abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence and a portion of the increase to early childhood education grants.
• Bronson vetoed several items in the city’s utilities and capital improvements budgets, including $2.3 million in bonds in the 2022 Parks and Recreation capital improvement budget.
Last week, several Assembly members said that the Bronson administration had underestimated city tax revenue sources, including the bed tax and alcohol tax, and used increased revenue estimates to justify some of their budget changes.
In a statement justifying the vetoes, Bronson cited his concern with a recent drop in the city’s bond rating as a reason for some of the vetoes. Assembly members have questioned why the drop occurred, and whether the Bronson administration had accurately characterized the city’s financial situation in its presentation. The mayor also said that the new omicron coronavirus variant could affect the city’s future revenues.
“Without a valid funding source and with the new COVID variant and bond rating concerns, my administration cannot validate or certify the funding source increases that the Assembly attempted to provide for in their amendments,” Bronson said.
Dunbar on Tuesday challenged the notion that the city is in a precarious financial situation and accused Bronson of using the new COVID-19 variant and drop in bond rating to further his political agenda.
“He is using this as an excuse to go after his ideological priorities. We have the funding sources next year,” Dunbar said. Original estimates for alcohol tax revenues were conservative, and even with the delta variant circulating, the tax “significantly beat projections,” he said.
“We have at least two significant sources of funding to to plug that hole if it happens,” Dunbar said. “But again, we’re talking about a very small amount of money compared to the overall budget, something like $3 million compared to a budget of more than $500 million.”
Those stopgaps include more federal American Rescue Plan Funds and the city’s trust, which the Assembly could vote to increase the city’s payout from, Dunbar said.