The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday overturned all of Mayor Dave Bronson’s vetoes to the 2024 city budget in an 8-2 vote.
Bronson last week vetoed 18 of the more than three dozen changes and additions the Assembly made to the budget earlier in November. Members added around $13.5 million to Bronson’s $597.9 million spending plan. Bronson’s vetoes cut $7.8 million of that.
Bronson said his vetoes aimed to help alleviate the property tax burden, especially given recent inflation and rising costs, though he supported some Assembly budget changes.
The veto overrides preserve funding that Assembly leaders said is critical to maintaining and improving public safety programs, such as the mental health first responder programs in the fire and police departments.
“It is easy to frame a small reduction in property taxes as a win,” but in this case, the benefit is “nominal,” said Assembly member Anna Brawley, who co-chairs the Budget and Finance Committee.
“And the cost of shortchanging public services is real for everybody,” she added. Bronson’s cuts would save property taxpayers less than $20 per assessed value of $100,000, she said.
“We would be cutting the budgets of key departments putting critical services like the (Mobile Crisis Team) in limbo, in terms of funding and stalling out critical work on housing. Residents have asked us not to keep making cuts, but to make sure government works,” Brawley said.
Assembly leaders said Bronson made a mistake when he vetoed Assembly changes that moved funding sources for the fire department’s Mobile Crisis Team and police department’s Mobile Intervention Team, essentially defunding both programs.
Bronson last week during a news conference asserted that his vetoes only reverted the change in funding sources, keeping both programs intact but funded by the city’s alcohol tax rather than property taxes.
The mayor on Tuesday doubled down, saying that he supports both teams but that the money should come from alcohol tax revenues, not property taxes.
“This is a bait-and-switch. That’s what this is,” Bronson said. “I’ve supported MCT and MIT — I always have. It’s the funding source that got struck, not vetoed.”
Assembly Chair Christopher Constant pushed back, saying that vetoing a funding source essentially vetoes the item itself.
“The reality is, the money for the program is gone. You can’t just revert the (funding) to money that doesn’t exist. And so once again, the mayor is demonstrating a lack of understanding of how the budget process works,” Constant said.
Even with the Assembly’s override, the fire department’s team will not be funded by property taxes in 2024.
It’s paid through “earned income by the fire department who is delivering services and generating revenue, not on a taxpayer expense. It’s actually earned income paid for by Medicaid,” Constant said.
When the Assembly shifted it into the general budget, members specified it would be funded by a surplus in revenues from a state and federal Medicaid payment program.
Assembly members Randy Sulte and Kevin Cross voted against overriding Bronson’s vetoes. (Members Scott Myers and Kameron Perez-Verdia were not present and did not vote.)
“I think like anyone managing their own personal budget, we have to make cuts,” Sulte said. “People can’t continue to pay. It’s tough decisions. There’s a lot of good things here. But like my own personal finances, I can’t do everything — I have to make those cuts. And there’s a percentage of the population out there that feels this way, and they need to have their voice expressed.”
Assembly members on Tuesday also nixed Bronson’s veto of their reversal of his $2.64 million one-time cut that would have defunded currently vacant staff positions in several departments.
Many members staunchly opposed Bronson’s cut, saying the city should strive to fill its budgeted positions. Not hiring staff to do city work would actually increase costs to residents, because the city must still provide and pay for core services, like snowplowing, even if through expensive contracts with private firms, they said.
Bronson in his veto had said many of the vacancies had gone unfilled for years.
“Finding the right financial size for a department, and the best way to pay a just wage for municipal employees, is a decision that should be made by the executive branch,” the mayor said in the veto.
Tuesday’s vote “isn’t the last word on the budget,” Brawley said, because the city revises the budget each spring.
Among other items, Assembly overrides of Bronson’s vetoes preserve:
• $100,000 for the Anchorage Downtown Partnership
• $500,000 for a housing fund in the Real Estate Department
• Adding 10 full-time staff to the Fire Department, using a federal grant.