JUNEAU — It will affect every man, woman and child in Alaska.
At 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy will unveil a proposal expected to cut $1.6 billion from Alaska’s budget, bringing a smoldering fiscal debate to full flame in the 49th state.
“It’s going to go from an ember to a bonfire,” said Senate Majority Leader Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, discussing public interest.
Details of the governor’s proposal have been held close within the governor’s inner circle. In a weekend interview, Dunleavy said he built his budget from the ground up to focus on “core services," namely “education, public safety, management of resources, transportation.”
Health care did not make the governor’s list of core services, which has alarmed some lawmakers. On Tuesday, Rep. Tiffany Zulkosky, D-Bethel; Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage; and Rep. Zach Fields, D-Anchorage; issued a joint statement saying “the Governor of Alaska is legally obligated to accept federal funding to cover the Medicaid expansion population in Alaska.”
The state-federal Medicaid program provides health care to more than 210,000 Alaskans, according to the latest figures from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. Of those, almost 48,000 are covered by Medicaid expansion under an administrative order signed by former Gov. Bill Walker. Dunleavy could reverse that expansion effort with an order of his own.
In addition to the budget itself, Dunleavy is expected to issue five administrative orders and a series of less-official guidance documents for internal state use, said Dunleavy press secretary Matt Shuckerow.
The topics of those administrative orders will not be revealed until they are announced.
“I think it’s going to be playing games with hundreds of thousands of Alaskans’ lives, and I think this is neither the time nor the place for that,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, D-Anchorage, about the governor’s budget overall.
The governor said Saturday that the budget will be accompanied by 25 other pieces of legislation that will modify the list of services that state government is required to provide.
Last year, according to figures from the nonpartisan Legislative Finance Division, lawmakers approved a budget of $11.36 billion. Most of that is federal money passed through the state and fee-funded programs. The undesignated general fund portion of that budget, paid for with oil taxes and spending from the Permanent Fund, is $5.8 billion.
With the House still disorganized, that legislation will first be considered by the Senate, whose finance committee has scheduled a 9 a.m. Thursday hearing on the topic.
“We’re not going to rubber-stamp the governor’s budget. We’re going to listen to the public and start the process,” Costello said of the Senate’s discussions.
When the House organizes, it will host its own hearings on the budget. The Legislature’s sole constitutional duty is passage of the budget.
“I think it’s going to be good discussion,” said Rep. Colleen Sullivan-Leonard, R-Wasilla. “I’m really interested to see how he builds a budget where revenues and expenditures match for a balanced budget.”
First, however, the governor will have his say in a 25-minute debut scheduled to air at 10:30 a.m. at 360north.org and adn.com.