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The damage of Dunleavy’s vetoes cannot be overestimated

  • Author: Carl Benson
    | Opinion
  • Updated: August 1, 2019
  • Published August 1, 2019

The Akasofu Building, home of the International Arctic Research Center, on the campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, on Sept. 9, 2015.

The Legislature’s vote to override the Dunleavy vetoes may be the most important vote since Alaskans voted to become a state. If the funds cut by the Dunleavy vetoes are not restored, the damage to Alaska in weakening our state agencies, degrading morale of Alaskans, downgrading the value of education and dividing our people will be long-lasting.

The damage will be worse than the natural disasters of earthquakes and floods. When natural disasters occur, we pull together to overcome the effects and most likely get federal disaster relief to help repair the damages. But the effects of the Dunleavy vetoes represent self-inflicted damage. There will be no federal disaster aid. Furthermore, instead of people coming together to work on rebuilding and repair, they are being divided.

Alaska is different from any other state; that fact was recognized in the debates over statehood. One effect of that recognition was that the state of Alaska should own the resources so their development would contribute to paying for state government. Some people compare Alaska with Wyoming because the populations are about the same. But Wyoming is six times smaller, has no sea coast, and one can reach all of its communities by road or rail.

Alaska spans four time zones, even though they were politically compressed into one. From east to west Alaska sprawls across 57.5 degrees of longitude that equals the span from Maine to Washington. North to south, it extends through 20 degrees of latitude, from 51°N to 71°N. In other words, its southern extreme is south of London, England, and it reaches to within 19 degrees of the North Pole. And the coastline of Alaska, on two oceans and the Bering Sea, exceeds the combined coastlines of all the other states, including Hawaii. Most villages are reached only by air or water transportation, and English is a second language in many of them. Alaska’s size, variety and sparse population incurs responsibilities for the state government that no other state even dreams of. The only thing that exceeds the size and complexity of Alaska is our ignorance about it. We treat this ignorance by research and teaching.

I first came to Alaska as a geological field assistant in the U.S. Geological Survey in 1950 and spent five months doing geological reconnaissance in the northern foothills of the Brooks Range, in what was then Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 4. I visited the University of Alaska at that time and saw the new federally built Geophysical Institute. I thought of its amazing potential. In 1960 I joined the faculty and my wife Ruth and I decided to raise our family here. We have seen the University of Alaska grow to become strong in all areas and to be a world leader in research of the Arctic and sub-Arctic; indeed, it is internationally famous for it. The university is a source of pride for Alaska, as well as an excellent investment with proven returns to our quality of life and our economy.

The Dunleavy vetoes, which have been largely reversed by the Legislature but which Gov. Mike Dunleavy has signaled he will likely repeat now that the bill is on his desk, now threaten the university as it has never been threatened before. After cuts for four of the last five years, the Dunleavy veto would cut 41% of the remaining state funding. There is no excuse for this malicious, anti-intellectual behavior.

Alaska has earned an unenviable national recognition for domestic abuse and crime. Our U.S. senators brought the U.S. attorney general to Alaska to investigate the situation for himself. The attorney general described our situation as a “law enforcement emergency” and authorized more than $10 million in federal funds to help Alaska deal with it. Gov. Dunleavy responded with vetoes to the components of Alaska’s government that deal with its “law enforcement emergency.”

The vetoes are: Department of Law, $1 million; Department of Public Safety, $3.5 million; Alaska Court System, $2.1 million. These vetoes total $6.6 million.

In addition, $131.1 million was cut from two other departments that are essential for improvement of life quality and crime prevention. These departments are: Department of Education and Early Development, $40.2 million, and Department of Health and Social Services, $90.9 million.

In addressing these vetoes, Alaska’s former Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth stated:

“Taken alone, any one of these cuts may not violate the constitution. But collectively, the cuts are unconstitutional because they threaten public safety and the welfare of all Alaskans. Crime will increase exponentially if the Legislature does not reverse these cuts.”

Gov. Dunleavy and his imported budget adviser simply do not understand the role of government in society. In my opinion, they are unfit for office and represent a hazard for our great state of Alaska.

Carl Benson is an emeritus professor of geophysics at the Geophysical Institute at UAF. He lives in Fairbanks.

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