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Gov. Dunleavy is at a crossroads

  • Author: Larry Wood
    | Opinion
  • Updated: August 16
  • Published August 18

Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks at a press conference announcing a 3-year, $70 million budget cut to the University of Alaska on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019. With him are UA President Jim Johnsen and UA Board of Regents chairman John Davies. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy is facing a critical point in his administration with his forthcoming decisions on the budget.

It is not the next “five minutes” that bothers me. Nor, the amount of the Permanent Fund dividend. It is how the leadership of the Legislature and their supporters perceive the governor’s compromises.

If the $1,600 is it, the door is now open to the Legislature forcing a diminishing PFD.

It is clear that the Legislature’s priority is preservation of government growth, not a sustainable fiscal solution.

The next three years of the Dunleavy administration will either be a repeat of this year or a gradual acquiescence by the governor and acceptance of a much-reduced agenda toward fiscal stability. Further, I seriously doubt that if the governor concedes this issue to the Legislature without a fight, there will be any chance of re-election.

Gov. Dunleavy made significant concessions with his acquiescence in removing the special session from Wasilla to Juneau to end the impasse and prevent the loss of federal matching funds from the capital budget. In making those concessions, he showed leadership and his concern for doing the people’s business, something the Legislature has seemingly ignored. He has made further concessions in an effort to jump-start a dialogue that would result in a plan to achieve the Holy Grail of Alaska politics, fiscal stability.

Given what the Legislature then did in restoring the veto amounts and ignoring any discussion regarding meeting the PFD statutory formula, compromise is absent the Legislature's collective mind.

If the governor accepts the $1,600 and agrees with the restoration of the funds vetoed, the stage is set for little or no progress towards fiscal stability. Even worse, the Legislature makes no excuse for ignoring the law. The Legislature ignored Alaska State 24.05.100 and now ignores the statute governing the PFD formula.

Bucking the governor and the law is of no consequence to the leadership of the Legislature.

The governor will either let these affronts to the supremacy of the law stand, or challenge the Legislature by holding the line on the vetoes and vetoing the PFD amount, and calling for another special session.

What’s at risk is the next three years. Further, there will be no re-election if the legislative leadership has its way and co-opts the governor’s agenda, replacing it with its own self-serving play to the unbridled government growth supporting government employees and unions. Once they get into Permanent Fund earnings, it’s just a matter of time before they spend us into fiscal insolvency.

Dunleavy’s challenge to the University of Alaska produced results, demonstrated in the decision to reorganize and eliminate redundancy in its bureaucracy. Further, the university admitted that a 38% cost savings would result from consolidating the various engineering disciplines under one dean and staff. Obviously, the savings system-wide would be significant were this done to each school, eliminating redundancies in staff and management. This would not have happened had Dunleavy not challenged the university with the cuts.

The question: Is this governor going to be satisfied with just that validation of his agenda this first year? Will he now find himself working to achieve a mere vestige of what he sold us over the next 3 years?

Too many people need the full PFD. There is the danger of recession and the ever-increasing cost of living.

The PFD does accomplish something increasing the size of government does not: It is an infusion directly into the private sector economy and it benefits all Alaskans, something increasing the size of government does not. The money is largely spent here, benefiting the private sector.

Government produces nothing and simply absorbs capital. It is a necessary evil and inefficient. Yet the Legislature has put government growth over the welfare of Alaskans and has used our PFD to do so. This is effectively a tax that penalizes every Alaskan.

I believe that if Gov. Dunleavy allows the Legislature to dictate the PFD amount and roll back the vetoes, his administration will be effectively compromised for the rest of his tenure as governor. I further believe that he will not achieve re-election as a result. Therefore, he has nothing to lose in maintaining his vetoes and challenging the Legislature to meet the statutory PFD formula.

He needs to tighten the straps on his body armor, drink another Gatorade and charge the Legislature’s windmill. Or, quietly concede the loss of this battle and, ultimately, the “war,” and be just another governor and “get along.”

We elected him to do the former, not the latter.

Larry Wood is a 64-year Alaskan living on Lazy Mountain outside of Palmer.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

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