Gov. Mike Dunleavy fielded questions about his budget proposal and plan for Alaska’s fiscal future during an appearance on Alaska Public Media’s statewide call-in show Talk of Alaska Tuesday morning.
His budget proposal involves distributing PFD payments of about $3,000 this year while simultaneously cutting about $1.6 billion from departments and services ranging from education to health care. The plan has drawn feedback from hundreds of Alaskans, who’ve spoken up at constituent meetings and public hearings around the state. Over the weekend, hundreds turned out to participate in budget discussions hosted by the House Finance Committee. The vast majority opposed the governor’s budget proposal.
But Dunleavy says the people who’ve participated in those public meetings represent only a small fraction of the state.
“I think a lot of the folks you see coming to these meetings are associated with many of the reductions that we’re talking about,” he said. “I talk to folks every day, average Alaskans that don’t have the time to take off work, they’re in the private sector. They are supportive of us getting this budget under control; they’re supportive of the reductions.”
The reductions include steep cuts to the Alaska Marine Highway System — cuts that would effectively end the service in October. Residents of Southeast Alaska have testified that this could have devastating impacts for health services and businesses in the region. When a caller echoed that sentiment Tuesday, Dunleavy said it’s an issue with no easy answer.
“I agree, that’s a problem, but that’s a problem that most of rural Alaska deals with now: Most of rural Alaska does not have a ferry system; they don’t have roads. They want to get from one community to another, they have to fly, and I agree it’s an issue,” he said. “There’s no easy solution to this problem. Everybody is going to be impacted by the budget because we don’t have the $1.6 billion.”
In public hearings across the state, Alaskans have asked lawmakers to consider adding new revenue sources, including a statewide income tax, to support funding services cut by Dunleavy’s budget proposal. But when a caller raised the question again Tuesday, the governor said he didn’t support it.
“I’m not prepared to support any tax at this time, until we get spending under control, we get more efficiencies in government and we decide what is important — what we want to fund — and what is not,” Dunleavy said. “When we get to that point I think we can have a discussion down the road, but right now, I don’t have an appetite for taxes.”
The appearance was part of the governor’s “Statewide Discussion for a Permanent Fiscal Plan,” sponsored by the conservative group Americans for Prosperity. The meeting series includes events in Nome, Fairbanks and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.