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Alaska Legislature

Here’s what the governor cut, and what was restored, in Alaska’s state operating budget

Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced his final decisions on the state operating budget Monday.

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy has announced his final decisions on the state operating budget, again vetoing funding for a list of programs and agencies, while agreeing to add money back for others.

It’s the latest move from the governor in a monthslong, tense funding battle as lawmakers feuded over how to close a massive budget gap driven by the state’s reliance on oil.

It follows Dunleavy’s decision on June 28 to veto more than $400 million from the state operating budget approved by the Legislature. Legislators then responded with a bill that added back most of that money and set the Permanent Fund dividend at $1,600.

Dunleavy on Monday unveiled more than $200 million in vetoes to the bill before signing it.

So what exactly did Dunleavy cut again and what was added back?

Here’s a partial list.

What Dunleavy vetoed again:

•The governor vetoed nearly $335,000 from the budget of the Alaska Court System in response to repeated rulings by the state courts that abortion rights are protected by the state constitution. That veto, Dunleavy has said, is equal to the amount the state spent on “elective abortions” last year. The American Civil Liberties Union of Alaska is suing Dunleavy over the veto. The veto is also listed as a grievance against Dunleavy in the ongoing effort to recall him from office.

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• The governor again cut half, or nearly $49 million, of the state money used to pay down debt for older school bonds. To pick up half of the state’s portion of the bills, Alaska cities and boroughs will likely raise taxes, cut services or a combination of both, the executive director of the Alaska Municipal League has said. Dunleavy also vetoed half, or nearly $20 million, of the state money used to pay down debt for school bonds in Alaska’s Regional Educational Attendance Areas, the rural districts with no taxing authority.

• The Ocean Ranger cruise ship pollution inspection program is no longer funded, a $3.4 million cut. The “environmental monitoring of cruise ships will continue under other programs,” says a budget document.

• The governor vetoed $50 million from Medicaid services atop a $70 million cut previously approved by the Legislature. Health care providers have said the governor’s cuts hurt their ability to treat low-income families and disabled people who count on Medicaid for insurance.

• Medicaid dental coverage has been eliminated for adults, a cut of $27 million. Alaska will continue to provide services on an emergency basis, according to Dunleavy’s press secretary.

• The governor again vetoed $6.1 million in behavioral health treatment and recovery grants.

• Funding for Adult Public Assistance payments to needy aged, blind and disabled Alaskans has again been cut by nearly $7.5 million. Payments are being reduced, not eliminated, according to the governor’s office.

• State funding is cut for public radio and TV stations, about $2.7 million. The cut is likely to lead to the elimination of jobs and less content purchasing, said Mollie Kabler, executive director of Alaska Public Broadcasting, Inc. The funding cut will also lead to decreases in federal funding across the 27 stations, she said. For some stations, such as those in Ketchikan, Homer and Kodiak, the cut puts the entirety of their federal funding at risk.

• $2 million in funding is cut for the Nome Youth Facility. Two part-time and 16 full-time jobs will be eliminated, says the governor’s office. Youth currently receiving treatment services at the facility will be relocated to Fairbanks, Anchorage, Bethel or Juneau, the office says. Probation services will continue in the Nome area.

The budget for the Village Public Safety Officer program is cut by $3 million. The VPSO program pays for the salaries of trained police officers in remote villages. The governor has said the money was for positions that were vacant, but advocates for the program, including rural legislators, say that justification is inaccurate and misleading.

Dunleavy also eliminated a one-time transfer of $250,000 from the VPSO budget to fund “a victim-centered analysis of sexual assault and domestic violence in rural Alaska and identify gaps in the current system,” according to a budget document. The “funding is duplicative of ongoing efforts by other entities,” says another document from the governor’s office.

• State funding is eliminated for the Alaska Wing of the Civil Air Patrol, a cut of $250,000. The air patrol conducts search and rescue missions. Without state funding, it will have to consolidate and cut utility costs, leading to delayed response times, air patrol officials have said.

• Dunleavy cut about $400,000 from the Public Defender Agency, plus another $180,000 from the agency’s travel budget. That organization defends poor Alaskans who cannot hire an attorney in criminal cases.

Nearly $47,000 was cut for rural airport maintenance.

• The governor vetoed a $30 million appropriation to the state’s community assistance fund. That eliminates an “an unnecessary capitalization” of the fund and won’t impact payments for the current fiscal year, says the governor’s office. That cut will reduce next year’s payments to cities and boroughs by a third, the Alaska Municipal League has said.

• The governor vetoed $5 million for the Alaska Marine Highway System, an amount recently added by the Legislature.

What Dunleavy didn’t veto again:

Here are the new funding decisions unveiled Monday:

• All funding is restored for the Alaska State Council on the Arts, about $3.9 million.

• About $534,000 is added back to pay for a prosecutor and a paralegal in Utqiagvik, reopening the district attorney’s office in the state’s northernmost community.

• Nearly $2.3 million is added back for the Human Services Community Matching Grant and the Community Initiative Matching Grant programs. The grants fund services including homeless shelters and soup kitchens.

• A 3% cost of living increase for court system employees is restored, about $1.7 million.

• All state funding, $375,000, is added back for the state’s new hemp program, a potentially lucrative industry centered on CBD oil.

• About $2.4 million is restored for other agricultural programs, including marketing Alaska products, seed production and inspection and regulatory programs.

• $100,000 is added back for a veterans’ services officer at the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs’ Office of Veterans Affairs. The officer will assist with the office’s “growing caseloads in order to support outreach to Alaska’s veteran population, which is the highest per capita in the United States,” says the governor’s office.

Here are the funding decisions Dunleavy had previously announced:

• About $110 million is added back for the University of Alaska, leaving a $25 million cut. Dunleavy has indicated he intends to cut state funding for UA by another $45 million over the next two fiscal years.

• The Alaska Senior Benefits Payment Program had all of its state funding restored, about $20.8 million. The income-based program provides monthly checks to qualified seniors. Also, $800,000 is added back to cover a funding shortfall from the last fiscal year that ended June 30, 2019.

• All state funding, about $759,000, is added back for Alaska Legal Services Corp. The state Department of Law has said the money comes with the agreement that it will be used to represent domestic violence and sexual assault victims in civil cases.

• All state funding, nearly $6.9 million, is restored for Alaska’s Head Start early childhood education programs.

• $1.2 million is added back for early childhood grants that fund public pre-K classes at eligible Alaska school districts.

• All state funding, $474,000, is restored to Parents as Teachers grants. The program provides early childhood parent education and family support.

• All state funding, $320,000, is added back for Best Beginnings, a program that supports early literacy and provides young children with free books.

• Alaska Online With Libraries (OWL) had all of its state funding restored at $670,900. The program provides high-speed internet access at public libraries, among other services.

• All state funding, $138,200, is restored for Live Homework Help, a program that provides Alaska students with online tutoring.