Dunleavy’s line item vetoes will hit Cordova hard

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Now that Governor Dunleavy has revealed his $424.4 million in line-item vetoes, I wanted to circle back to discuss what they were, as well as how they could affect our community and state if not overridden by the Legislature.

First, I would like to remind readers that this year, the Legislature passed the largest single-year reduction in Alaska’s history with $190 million in cuts. The additional $424 million in vetoes by the governor skyrockets those cuts far beyond the draconian level.

Although the Alaska Marine Highway System did not receive any veto beyond what was already cut, there are a litany of vetoes that would have a very negative impact on Cordova.

Schools

The first of which is the Governor’s veto of $50 million, or 50 percent, of the school bond debt reimbursement funding.

Under this program, the state reimburses local governments for 60 percent to 70 percent of the debt incurred to work on schools. The city of Cordova currently has about $9.5 million in outstanding school bond debt and the governor’s veto would add over $481,000 in additional debt payments to the city in FY19. This would likely result in increased local taxes on you.

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Plain and simple, this would hurt school districts, municipalities and property owners. Aside from the obvious harm, this veto reneges Alaska on a promise it made to communities like Cordova and is likely unconstitutional. As a state, we made commitments to repay local communities for assuming the financial burden of school construction. Now that the schools are built, the governor is choosing not to honor that agreement. That is not how anyone should do business, let alone our state government. Further, it is not Cordova’s constitutional responsibility to provide public education, it is the state of Alaska’s and this borders dangerously close to neglecting that duty.

University system

Another veto that crosses the line is the $135 million, or roughly 40 percent, gouging to our university system. Again, a 40 percent reduction in one year exceeds what most would consider draconian, but let’s look at the specific impacts.

It is estimated that 1,300 people will lose their jobs and a main campus could close as a result of this veto. Further, the actual reduction is projected to be about $248 million when one accounts for the resulting loss of $44 million in federal funds and $69 million in tuition revenue.

What kind of a message is Alaska sending to parents wanting their children to remain in state for their education, the university system itself which has made commitments, as well as the students who have already enrolled in classes?

Although only the Board of Regents knows what the system would look like if this veto were to stand. For Cordova, it would likely mean Prince William Sound College will have to close its doors and Cordova’s Sea Grant position would go away. It is also likely that Kodiak College and the Seafood and Marine Science Center could be looking at closing its doors for good.

Fish and Game

I am particularly puzzled and disappointed with the Governor’s vetoes to the Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G). To start with, he went out of his way to veto $189,000 for the Prince William Sound Coded Wire Tag Program (better known as the otolith program) and $50,000 for the Prince William Sound Tanner crab survey. First of all, the otolith program may be the most invaluable tool our local biologists have for in-season management and if it is defunded, the result could be a massive amount of unharvested hatchery fish in the Sound. The Tanner crab survey speaks for itself. Cordova just had its second Tanner crab season in 30 years. It was highly successful, and we need to support that burgeoning fishery with survey data so we can expand the fishing area and open additional opportunity. Kodiak received equal treatment as $200,000 in funding for the Karluk, Dog Salmon, Ayakulik, Upper Station and Chignik weirs got the axe as well.

I worked hard over the last two budget cycles to keep these projects moving forward because they provide direct fishing opportunities for my constituents and revenue for the state. In the long run, cutting these projects will not only lose the state a lot of money, it will result in less fishing time for you and leave a harvestable product on the table. This is the first time I have ever seen a Governor veto commercial fishing projects in a budget, let alone weir time and ear bone sampling for hatcheries? Operating weirs and in season otolith data are fundamental to being able to have commercial openers in Kodiak and Prince William Sound.

The Governor vetoed similar revenue-generating Comfish projects throughout the state. Never short on irony, he also vetoed the funding for the director of the Division of Habitat and the director of the Subsistence Division from ADF&G’s budget to pay for two high-level budget analysts in his office. So much for small government.

Vulnerable populations

Let’s take a quick look at how these vetoes treat our vulnerable populations. The Senior Benefits and Adult Dental Programs were both eliminated with $47.8 million in vetoes. Additional similar vetoes included $50 million from Medicaid, $6 million from behavioral health grants, $7.2 million from homeless assistance, $2 million from special needs housing, $500,000 from assistive technology, and the list continues. All of the mental health capital projects were vetoed.

Moving on to the opposite end of the spectrum of our vulnerable population, the governor’s vetoes defund $1.2 million in early education grants, $6.8 million in Head Start grants, $474,000 for Parents as Teachers, $670,000 for Online with Libraries, and last but hardly least, the entirety of next year’s K-12 education funding. Alaska Public Broadcasting, which provides an enormous amount of educational programming for children, also received a $2.7 million veto.

Public safety

On to public safety, which he proudly touts as a priority of his administration. Well, the proof is in the pudding and his vetoes included $3 million from funding for Village Public Safety Officer (VPSO) positions, $400,000 from public defenders, $1 million for the Department of Law, cost of living increases for the court system, and that list continues.

Ocean Ranger Program

Another headscratcher is the elimination of the Ocean Ranger Program, which holds cruise lines accountable to discharge standards in Alaskan waters through active monitoring and enforcement. Why would any Alaskan want that program, which doesn’t cost the state a dime, to go away?  The winner in this veto is clearly the cruise line industry with the obvious loser being the Alaskan people.

There are many, many other upsetting vetoes found in the $424 million that not only make little sense from an Alaskan perspective, but also go far below the funding level needed to keep our economy and communities strong.

As I write this, it is Friday, July 5th. As you know, the Legislature is convening a special session in Juneau on Monday to address the PFD. Once we gavel in, the Legislature has five days to override the Governor’s vetoes before they take effect.

What’s next

Over the past week, the outreach from Alaskans passionately arguing for a veto override has been overwhelming. The sheer volume of the outcry dwarfs any outreach effort I have seen previously. This is a pivotal moment in Alaska’s history, and I am pleased to see the public so engaged. The message Alaskans are sending is clear. The question is, are there enough statesmen in the Legislature to stand up to the corruption and outside influences that are threatening to destroy our state from within?

I am a strong “yes” vote to override every single veto Gov. Dunleavy put forward and can assure you that other likeminded legislators and I are doing everything we can to convince our colleagues to follow their hearts and do the right thing. I cannot discuss the vote counts publicly, but we understand the gravity of this situation and are working diligently on an override.

PFD

I will try not to repeat what I stated last week, but I must touch on the overall issue again briefly. The budget is a moral document that speaks to our values as a society. As I have stated before, I understand how important the PFD is to everyone in Alaska, particularly those in rural areas; however, what kind of a message are we sending, and more importantly, what kind of an Alaska are we leaving behind if we value the PFD above all other essential services.

The governor’s budget is designed with the singular purpose of providing as large of a PFD as possible by dismantling government. The problems with his approach are:

  1. It does this without regard to ignoring our obligations, some of which are mandated by the constitution.
  2. It does not include oil tax reform or any form of a broad-based tax.
  3. And, finally, most of what he is dismantling is not bloated government, but are in fact jobs held by Alaskans and services that Alaskans rely on, as well as money that municipalities will ultimately have to extract from you in the form of increased taxes. This budget simply robs Peter to pay Paul. Sadly, in this instance, Peter is a longtime Alaska resident and Paul lives somewhere in the Lower-48.

I am going to close with this. Alaska is a rich state with many opportunities and with the right decision making, we can pay a healthy PFD, maintain essential services, and continue to grow the fund and the dividend for future generations. We have a lot of options available to us, but the Governor is focusing only on one, which is cutting the budget. This creates a false choice: essential services or the PFD?

Alaskans are speaking loudly and clearly about how they view the level of service these vetoes represent. Please keep in mind that this year’s reduction represents less than half of the cuts the Governor has promised to deliver.

Any real solution needs to involve the PFD, oil tax reform, some form of a broad-based tax, and continued budget reductions. A solution that involves all of these contributing together towards a solution will leave the next generation of Alaskans on amazing financial footing with a stable economy, educated, healthy, and engaged citizens, and a larger and stable Permanent Fund.

A solution that only involves continued draconian cuts while refusing to look at new revenue, oil taxes, or the PFD calculation would, instead, leave Alaska’s next generation in financial ruin with distant memories of a few years of big PFDs.

Next week, I will be voting to override the governor’s vetoes and supporting a more moderately sized PFD that does not bankrupt essential services and shortchange future generations.

Good news:

Following up on a previous update, I am pleased to bring you a piece of good news. NOAA has finally approved Alaska’s $54 million 2016 pink salmon disaster relief grant and the transfer of the funding itself to the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSMFC) should occur by Monday.

PSMFC will be mailing payment applications directly to affected Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission (CFEC) permit holders and processors. CFEC permit holders will be required to submit the names and addresses of each crew member on their application and PSMFC will send a separate application to crew. Although applications must be completed and returned by the deadline to receive a payment, the application period is being extended in recognition of it being the middle of the fishing season.

PSMFC has established a fisheries disaster web site at https://www.psmfc.org/fishery-disaster-programs. Aside from any updates I can provide, this site is the best source of information regarding the distribution process and timeline. I will be sure to continue the updates, but please monitor the site for new information.

As I write this, PSMFC has not yet announced the new application period or officially updated their website to reflect that the Alaska grant has been received. Once the grant transfer occurs, which I suspect will have happened by the time you read this, the website will be updated, and more information will be forthcoming.

Please be sure you have the appropriate address registered through CFEC to ensure that you receive your application.  You can verify your current mailing address on record with CFEC at: https://www.cfec.state.ak.us/plook/#permits.

If a correction is needed, submit the following address change form to CFEC: https://www.cfec.state.ak.us/forms/Address_Change_Form.pdf.

ADF&G is currently working with the Federal Government to find an acceptable distribution method for the municipal payments.

The grant will still take a little time to process and get rolling, but I expect to be able to provide more information very soon. It is my understanding that there will also be a 1-800 hotline setup shortly to field questions anyone may have. Please verify your address, keep an eye on the website and your mailbox, and look for further updates.

If you would like to be added to our disaster relief update email list, please contact my Fisheries Committee aide, Matt Gruening, at [email protected] and he will add you to the list.

Remember, I work for you. If you have any thoughts on the issues I have discussed in this update or anything else that is important to you and your family, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,
Louise

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