Even after his partial veto of Alaskans' Permanent Fund dividends, residents still are giving Gov. Bill Walker better grades than the Alaska Legislature for their responses to the state's budget crisis, according to a new Alaska Dispatch News poll.
Walker's ratings suffered after his veto sliced this year's dividends to $1,022 from $2,052: Fewer Alaskans gave him an A or B grade, and more gave him Ds and Fs. But the first-term governor's numbers remained higher than Democratic and Republican lawmakers, who got higher proportions of failing grades.
Alaskans "haven't blamed the Legislature any more than they already have," said pollster Ivan Moore, who conducted the survey. "Grades for the Republicans and Democrats are still considerably lower than the grade for the governor — despite the fact that it's the governor that's taken the hit," Moore said.
The poll was conducted between Sept. 28 and Oct. 2, just after the dividend amount was announced but before the money was distributed to Alaskans' bank accounts. The poll surveyed 747 people and had a 3.6 percent margin of error.
Moore ranks the responses using a grade point average. In the latest survey, Walker's dropped to 1.6 from 2.0 in June, while the rankings for state lawmakers barely budged: Democrats' dropped slightly to 1.36 from 1.38, while Republicans' ticked up to 1.26 from 1.25.
The numbers also suggest that Alaskans are suffering a bit less now from the budget crisis than they were three months ago. About 26 percent of respondents to the recent survey said their personal income had fallen because of lower oil prices and the state's budget deficit — down from 31 percent in June.
The higher rating for Alaska's chief executive mirrors poll numbers at the federal level, where the president has outperformed Congress for more than three decades, according to numbers from the survey company Gallup.
Moore, however, argued that the current polling divide between two branches of Alaska's government isn't solely because the Legislature is "some nebulous, faceless institution." He pointed out that former Gov. Frank Murkowski had reached a rock-bottom approval rating of just 20 percent a decade ago.
Data from another pollster, Dittman Research, also shows Alaskans' satisfaction with former Republican Gov. Sean Parnell's job performance was about the same as the Legislature's in 2014, with 54 percent giving Parnell an "excellent" or "good" rating compared to 52 percent for the Legislature.
Moore's recent results also showed a correlation between respondents' opinions of the governor's veto and his response to the state budget deficit. Of people who gave Walker an A or a B on the budget, 72 percent supported his PFD veto, while 88 percent of people who gave Walker a D or an F were opposed.
"That one issue completely drives what people think of his performance," Moore said.
Walker's Permanent Fund veto reduced state spending by more than $650 million. He said the step was needed to preserve Alaska's savings, which by June will have dropped to $3.6 billion from $15.6 billion three years earlier.
Lawmakers from both parties have opposed Walker's veto, but few have put forward their own detailed plans to balance the state budget, which this year relies on $3.1 billion in savings to help cover a $4.3 billion spending plan.
Like in June, survey respondents didn't appear to distinguish the Democrats in the Legislature — most of whom are in the nearly powerless House and Senate minorities — and the Republicans, who lead the majorities that run the two chambers.
They should make that distinction, said Anchorage Democratic Rep. Les Gara, who's in the House minority.
"The fact is, Republicans have run the show for the last four years," he said.
Read the full poll results here.