In January 2019, Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy and I arrived in Juneau, along with 60 lawmakers, facing an estimated $1.6 billion deficit. During the preceding four years, Alaskans witnessed lawmakers and the governor struggle with “right-sizing government,” although very few of us could define what “right size” really meant. Budget reserves had been spent down more than 75%, from $14 billion to just under $3 billion. For the first time in state history, earnings of the Permanent Fund were used to fund state government. The operating budget and formulary programs continued to grow, and very few were looking at outcomes and results of the increased spending.
Gov. Dunleavy took a bold but necessary approach to building the budget. He introduced a budget aimed at challenging lawmakers and Alaskans to consider the important functions of government in light of, not despite, the revenue available.
Gov. Dunleavy presented a budget in which expenditures met anticipated revenue. This began a necessary dialogue with Alaskans – a dialogue we have avoided for decades. It forced Alaskans to have a conversation about what government is responsible for and what level of government we as citizens want. For the first time in a long time, the leadership of this state engaged Alaskans in an in-depth discussion of a vision for the future of our state.
Did this dialogue get contentious? Yes. Did it ask residents of Fairbanks, Nome, and Kenai, to consider the needs of Kodiak, Bethel, and Ketchikan? Yes. Did it require local governments and non-profit organizations to focus on what can be done differently to support the social and economic needs in their communities? Yes.
The governor and I both realize how difficult the process has been and the real struggles and strains the discussions have uncovered. Was this approach uncomfortable? Yes. But it was necessary, long overdue and has also effected change. The governor reignited a conversation about real collaboration and how we must work together to solve the issues we face.
When more money wasn’t the answer – Gov. Dunleavy brought us together to find solutions to the problems that we face. His leadership on the budget created a level of engagement among all Alaskans – as individuals, as local governments, and as state government officials – that was missing and that should continue to thrive.
The next step for the Dunleavy-Meyer administration is to focus on outcomes, especially in the areas of education and public safety. The governor has directed his state departments to focus on performance-based measures, to ensure that the programs our government provides are serving the constituencies they were designed to serve in the most efficient manner possible.
Alaska’s domestic violence and sexual assault statistics are the worst in the nation. This year, the administration strengthened our laws on domestic violence and sexual assault by repealing the weak policies of Senate Bill 91. I am proud to support Gov. Dunleavy’s commitment to improve public safety and protect all Alaskans. We will continue to support our law enforcement officers, prosecutors, communities and our courts to keep Alaskans safe – and track those outcomes.
In the past year, Gov. Dunleavy and I have realized the best of Alaska. We have discovered that in the midst of difficulty lies immense opportunity. The budget issues that we face are daunting and will require hard discussions and even harder decisions. However difficult, this path will lead us to opportunity by bringing us closer together. I support the leadership of Gov. Dunleavy and I am honored to be part of the team that has brought all Alaskans to the table to address the challenges that we face in order to ensure a brighter future for all Alaskans.
Kevin Meyer serves as lieutenant governor of Alaska. He was formerly a state senator from Anchorage.
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